Am I the only one in Ontario who feels as if immigrant issues have been cast aside in favour of the same old rhetoric? Before the Toronto debate, polls indicated that 38 per cent of voters were still undecided and I suspect that many newcomers figure among them. Why am I not surprised?
Although a flash poll conducted by Ipsos after Tuesday’s debate indicated that only 10 per cent of viewers doubted who the winner was, in my opinion, the three-way encounter brought little clarity on any of the issues, let alone addressing the concerns of new Canadians. Presented with the dark reality of no-confidence in any of the parties and their leaders, I am almost tempted to decline my ballot (as suggested by host Steve Paikin in the dying moments of the debate).
While the parties fall over themselves to court the various ethnic communities at any opportunity they get, the debate between the three premier hopefuls in Toronto was loudly silent on immigrant issues. It almost seems like we can expect more of the same no matter who occupies the premier’s chair: a continuing struggle to find the right jobs among the many opportunities the candidates were promising to create. One immigrant I met at the gym yesterday perhaps echoed what many feel, “What’s the point of voting?”
A matter of trust
At the heart of the race is trust. I was delighted to see a visible-minority voter by the name of “Suresh Naik” speak up so eloquently and almost frame the debate with the first question thrown at the three contenders. He cut to the chase when he asked, ‘How can I trust the Liberals with my retirement money in light of the gas plants scandal?’ (see video below). To that I might add, or ‘any other government?’ Immigrants have often been accused of not being involved. Apathy, though, may not be the only reason. Perhaps it is the continual neglect of issues that are of critical importance to them.
Apathy, though, may not be the only reason. Perhaps it is the continual neglect of issues that are of critical importance to them.
It is critical to engage immigrants given their low turnout rate at elections. And, this is done not just by fielding ethnic candidates to get their votes but by building trust, which comes from making them feel “heard” and listened to. Education, healthcare and energy bills are high priorities for all Ontarians, especially struggling immigrants, but what is hurting immigrants most right now is jobs: the lack of opportunity to use their skills and experience in the right way; to be able to earn enough money to afford higher education for their kids and pay those energy bills. Not surprisingly, none of the job creation plans had a concrete strategy to resolve this problem.
The Liberals may claim to have created jobs, but unfortunately more and more of these employment opportunities are turning out to be part-time. As a result, many newcomers are working two and three jobs just to be able to survive. With their previous credentials not recognized and the lack of “Canadian experience” they are often forced into low-paying jobs and find themselves at the mercy of unscrupulous employers who are ever willing to exploit the situation.
Less than three weeks ago, Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak was courting new immigrants by promising to create jobs in Ontario and make it their No. 1 destination (something that the NDP touted way back in 2012). “I want to cut the red tape holding back new Canadians from putting their professional experience to work,” he said. That gave me some “hope”. I thought that perhaps he had a real plan to have their job skills and credentials recognized. But just like his million jobs promise, Hudak failed to back it up with any concrete roadmap of how he would go about doing this. I’m inclined to agree with Horwath, who said during the debate that Hudak has little to show from his leadership over the last three years.
Kathleen Wynne was not to be left behind, and fought back with her “One Ontario,” plan which would include a “number of initiatives” to attract skilled immigrants to the province, provide more culturally appropriate health care, invest in bridge training programs that help integrate new Canadians into the workforce. A glimmer of hope once again and new Canadians were waiting to hear more on how she was going to integrate them into the fold. Unfortunately, just like Hudak, that was all she was willing (or had) to say.
Perhaps, I thought, NDP leader Andrea Horwath was the most honest in her lack of promises to new immigrants. Or, is this a preview of what is to come if she becomes Ontario’s premier? Can we look forward to the day when parties formulate policies based on the needs of the people and their demands, rather than undoing what has been done by the previous government.
Politicians ought to realize that few immigrants have the stomach for local politics or community issues mainly because many of them are struggling to keep their heads above water. Fielding ethnic candidates who do no more than mouths the lines already overused by their leaders certainly strikes a chord, but perhaps not the way they are intended. They encourage divisive, personality-based politics that cement newcomer bonds to the “home country,” instead of helping them assimilate and truly accept Canada as their country. Without 100 per cent buy-in from immigrants, Ontario can hardly hope to move ahead or thrive.
Without 100 per cent buy-in from immigrants, Ontario can hardly hope to move ahead or thrive.
The talk of increasing immigration and attracting newcomers to Ontario might seem attractive, but only to Hudak and Wynne. The results from CBC’s Vote Compass two weeks ago indicated just 16 per cent of respondents support increased immigration to the province. Even newcomers would have trouble wrapping their heads around letting in more immigrants in a shrinking job market.
Let’s be realistic. Can any of these politicians really create jobs? Can they stop companies from outsourcing to be more competitive, even viable?
Tim Hudak says “hope is on the way.” Andrea Horwath promises to “invest tax dollars in your priorities.” And Premier Wynne claims she will “invest in people and skills” to move Ontario forward. They sound to me like empty promises to win power. Immigrants tend to be a lot more cynical. Their vote might cost two of these politicians the election.
Maryann D’Souza is a Toronto-based journalist who has been in Canada for 10 years.