Início / Recursos / Recortes de imprensa / 2012
More support needed to attract skilled workers to Ontario: Sousa

Mississauga South MPP Charles Sousa was appointed as Ontario's Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in October last year, following the general elections. Sousa, who is also the minister responsible for the 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games, reflects on various subjects, from his growing up in a Portuguese immigrant household in the Kensington Market neighbourhood, to his taking charge of the province's immigration portfolio, and his ministerial outlook for 2012. Here are excerpts from a chat with Canadian Immigrant upon his completing three months in office.

CI: It's been a few months since you took charge of the immigration ministry. What has been your experience so far?
CS: I'm extremely excited and honoured by the opportunity to play a role in helping newcomers to Ontario. When the premier asked if I would take on this role, I thought how important it is. I mean, I'm a product of immigration - when my father came to Canada in 1953, it was important for him to find more opportunity and find freedom. And I'm very thankful he chose Canada, and more importantly I'm very fortunate and grateful that Ontario accepted him.
I grew up in Kensington Market village during the '50s and the '60s. You know, my father has a saying: "There's room for everyone - there's room for everyone to compete, room for everyone to do business ... there's room for improvement and there's room for us to help one another." My father chose to come to Canada for prosperity - for economic reasons - and also for social values, or for the notion of social justice. For me, someone growing up here, the most important thing we do to support the newcomers is to provide that proficiency because proficiency will enable them to have confidence and the ability to do what they want to do in our society.

CI: Where do you see a need to improve service to skilled immigrants in Ontario, and how will you facilitate that?
CS: Ontario has a demand for skilled workers in various sectors because we are still the largest employers in the country. It's important for us to maintain and serve those needs. So one of the things I'd be talking to my colleagues is how can we, collectively, continue to improve immigration for the benefit of all jurisdictions? Also what do we do to facilitate those [newcomers] who feel somewhat isolated because of their lack of skills or language? Encourage and provide support. I think primarily that's the role Ontario has in this big mix.
I know exactly what it is like to feel somewhat at times isolated as a child growing up when your first language is something other than English and how important it is for us to have those programs in place to facilitate our proficiency. Because in the end, what newcomers want and need, especially depending on the type that comes to Canada, as you know, there are refugees, there's family reunification, and there's economic immigrants. It is necessary for us to facilitate their transition. It's an investment that we make.
We have a huge backlog in the federal skilled workers initiative. We have to do our part to enable those [aspirant] immigrants to come to Ontario. They've requested to come to Ontario. So let's speed up the process, let's enable those selections so that we continue to serve the needs of the province of Ontario.

CI: We see that more and more immigrants are choosing provinces other than Ontario to settle in. And even many of those who arrive here first, relocate to other provinces. What is Ontario doing to woo and retain skilled immigrants within the province?
CS: Ontario is the number one destination for newcomers to Canada, more than all the other provinces and territories combined, outside of Quebec. In addition, immigrants who come to Ontario stay in Ontario. In fact, Ontario has the highest immigrant retention rate among all provinces and territories. Though, on a percentage basis, the number of skilled workers is lower in Ontario than in other parts of Canada, we know Ontario has a huge demand outside of Canada, with people wanting to come here. And Ontario has a huge demand for immigrants and skilled labour, but the [application] backlogs are massive.
To help newcomers find work and apply their skills in Ontario, the Ontario government provides funding for bridge training programs, which target more than 100 different professional areas and help newcomers find jobs consistent with their education and area of expertise.

CI: With constant cuts in federal funding, how are settlement services affected?
CS: Ontario deserves fairness. Funds of Ontario's agencies and communities have been cut and demand is increasing. When expectations exist for budgets to be maintained, suddenly decisions have been made without consultations with the province.    Without having the agreement [the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement (COIA), the framework for Ontario's relationship with the Government of Canada on immigration], which has not been renewed, the federal government has made decisions unilaterally.
You see a $75 million cut to settlement programs here in Ontario when the demand seems to be just as high as, if not higher than it was two years ago. It's affecting children directly and I've been to a few of the ESL programs and I've been to community centres offering job placements services ... they are struggling.
Our priority is to make sure that immigrants to Ontario have access to the support they need for their long-term success in our province. This is the second consecutive year that the Harper government has cut support to Ontario's newcomer settlement agencies. These cuts don't just affect agency staff, they affect newcomers and their families in their day-to-day lives. We hope the federal government will think twice and do the right thing - cancel these cuts and treat the people of Ontario fairly. The province cannot step in every time the federal government decides to cut its own funding.
CI: What is Ontario doing to push for faster processing of federal skilled worker applications for permanent residency?
CS: We know that Ontario has fewer skilled immigrants. We want to have an Ontario immigration strategy enabling us to have a faster system that complements Canada's requirements. Unfortunately, we've seen that the level of chosen immigrants that are allowed to come to Ontario, are less.
Immigrants through the federal skilled workers initiatives have had more long-term success than those through the provincial nominee program, for which Ontario has still not been given higher allocation. So it's important for us to maintain the level of skilled immigrants that come here, that continue to add value to our economy. We want Ontario's immigration strategy to be understood and respected by the federal government as much as it is for the rest of the country. So, absolutely, I'm asking for more support for more skilled workers to come to Ontario.
The applications backlog of federal skilled workers continues to be a key barrier for immigrants wanting to settle in Ontario. The backlog is estimated to consist of more than 300,000 people and 70 per cent of these applicants have expressed their desire to come to Ontario. It's just another reason why we encourage the federal government to work with the province instead of unilaterally taking steps that determine Ontario's economic recovery, and its economic future.
CI: What is your outlook for 2012 for newcomers to Ontario?
CS: As the minister responsible for the Pan/Parapan American Games, I can say there's a lot of infrastructure and investment being made here. Ontario is very attractive because our education system and our health care system. Our universality enables us to be competitive and, with some of our tax reforms, we are also encouraging a lot of business investments. All of this is combined in our strategy to fulfil the needs of our economic recovery and our citizens, including newcomers. We are also seeing a great need of foreign workers to complement that. I want to ensure that Ontario is positioned well to serve those needs and I'm looking forward to working closely and collaboratively with the federal government to enable us to have success., aqui.

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