Local perspectives on immigration and diversity in 15 ontario municipalities

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Livianna Tossutti and Victoria Esses

Welcoming Communities Initiative

This study was funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (Ontario Region). The authors are grateful for the support and bear sole responsibility for the interpretations of the data and any errors that may be contained herein.

Immigration and the growth in the relative size of the visible minority population are making significant changes to the face of Canada beyond the largest immigrant-receiving metropolises of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. Nowhere will these changes become more apparent than in Ontario, where mid-sized urban centres have already experienced significant growth in the cultural diversity of their populations (Federation of Canadian Municipalities 2009).

Since 2001, successive federal governments have touted immigration to second and third tier cities as a strategy that will benefit both newcomers and receiving communities (Frideres 2006). In that year, Citizenship and Immigration Canada released a study recommending the regionalization of immigration policy, or increased newcomer settlement outside the largest immigrant-receiving destinations (Abu-Ayyash and Brochu 2006). The impetus for regionalization stemmed from concerns that the concentration of immigrants in large urban centres had adversely affected the size and demographic profile of smaller provinces and their communities, as well as their prospects for economic development and political power. The dispersal of immigration was seen as a vehicle for economic growth, a more regionally balanced population, and greater uniformity in the demographic profile of smaller and larger provinces and their respective local communities (Garcea 2003). Over the past decade, second tier immigration cities such as Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton and Ottawa, and third tier municipalities with populations of 100,000 or less, have devoted increasing attention to attracting and retaining newcomers (Krahn, Derwing and Abu-Laban, 2003).

The convergence of federal and local interest in the regionalization of immigration has been accompanied by the devolution of responsibility for the reception, settlement and integration of new arrivals. Since the early 1990s, greater provincial involvement in immigration has been formalized in intergovernmental agreements between the federal government and all ten provinces and the Yukon (Biles, Burstein and Frideres 2008). A growing number of municipal governments and local stakeholders have also become more active political agents in developing immigrant settlement policy at the local level (Poirier 2004). The 2005 Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement (COIA) was the first federal-provincial agreement to include a provision to involve municipalities in planning and discussions on immigrant settlement. Through COIA, funding has been provided for the Local Immigration Partnership (LIP) initiative, a multi-level collaborative governance arrangement that has spurred the interest of municipalities and neighbourhood associations in developing strategic plans to address the opportunities and challenges associated with fostering inclusive and responsive environments for newcomers (Burr 2011).
The regionalization policy, the LIPs initiative, and changes in immigration flows that are seeing more Ontario-bound immigrants settling outside Toronto, speak to the importance of understanding whether and why Ontario’s second and third tier municipalities are interested in immigration, how demographic change is viewed by local populations, and whether these municipalities have the capacity to meet changing service needs related to immigration and cultural diversity. The urban public policy literature has noted the growing involvement of some mid and small-sized Ontario municipalities in the attraction and retention of newcomers (Frideres 2006; Biles 2008; Tossutti 2009; Tolley, forthcoming). Early studies on the capacity of suburban communities in the Greater Toronto Area to provide appropriate forms of settlement and integration assistance suggested they faced formidable challenges (Frisken and Wallace 2003). Much less is known about the interest levels and receptivity of the general population in Ontario’s small and mid-sized cities to immigration.
Analyses of interest, receptivity and capacity in small and mid-sized cities in Ontario have been dominated by single case studies or comparative analyses of a limited number of communities in the Greater Toronto Area. This paper will broaden the scope of analysis to 15 second and third-tier municipalities situated in all corners of the province. Through a series of 150 confidential interviews with opinion leaders from the governmental and non-governmental sectors, the study addresses four thematic lines of inquiry. First, it explores perceptions about the interest levels of local and regional governments in immigration and the drivers of that interest. It also probes the respondents’ perceptions about whether community leaders in general see immigration as contributing to the economic, social/cultural, and political/civic life of the community and identity, as well as their personal views about the advantages and disadvantages of immigration. Second, it reveals their views on how local residents perceive immigration and cultural diversity, and whether their communities are welcoming places for newcomers and visible minorities. A third leitmotif taps into the perceived capacity of the municipality to meet the program and service needs that accompany demographic change. Finally, demographic data on the age, gender, length of community residency, immigrant status, and ethnic and racial origins of the interviewees have been collected in order to paint a profile of community leadership. Overall, the study furnishes important insights about receptivity to immigration and diversity in urban centres about which very little is known, as well as policy recommendations that support the development of welcoming communities. The following section reviews previous literature on each of the thematic elements in the interview agenda.

Drivers of local government interest in immigration
The desire to stimulate economic competitiveness and labour market development has driven local interest in immigrant attraction and retention initiatives in London (London Economic Development Corporation 2005), Ottawa (Stasiulis, Hughes and Amery forthcoming), Windsor (Munro 2006), the Region of Waterloo (Abu-Ayyash and Brochu 2006), Greater Sudbury (Walton-Roberts 2007), and St. Catharines-Niagara (Tossutti and Morettin 2011). Greater Sudbury and the Regional Municipality of Niagara have also identified immigration as a means to counter aging populations and youth out-migration. In Greater Sudbury and London, immigration has been linked to a broader economic and cultural development strategy based on economist Richard Florida’s creative class thesis (Block 2006; Brochu and Abu-Ayyash 2006). According to Florida, members of the creative class include skilled workers who create new ideas, technology and creative content, as well as creative professionals in the fields of business, law, finance, health care etc. In the “Rise of the Creative Class”, he argues that members of the creative class prefer to locate to environments with technological infrastructure, high-quality arts and recreational amenities, high levels of acceptance of gays, immigrants and “bohemians” (professional artists, writers and performers) and low levels of racial segregation. Since businesses move to locations with the greatest supply of skilled labour, the fostering of a welcoming community for immigrants and cultural minorities is part of a holistic strategy to attract business investment and creative class workers (2004).

Immigration and diversity: national and local opinion
Compared to people in most other immigrant-receiving countries, Canadians are more likely to believe that immigrants have a good influence on the country (German Marshall Fund 2011; Gross 2004), are less likely to call for reductions in the number of immigrants, and are more likely to agree that immigrants improve society by introducing new ideas and cultures (Jedwab 2008). An analysis of Canadians’ attitudes about immigration between 1975 and 2005 found that a majority wanted immigration levels to remain the same (Wilkes, Guppy and Farris 2007). However, studies have also shown that public opinion shifts when survey questions are preceded by figures. When actual immigration levels are cited, Canadians are more likely to change their answer to “too many” immigrants are coming to the country. With respect to attitudes about cultural diversity, national surveys reveal that not all cultures are valued equally. A 1991 survey of 2,500 Canadian respondents about their “comfort level” with people of different ethnocultural backgrounds found that visible minority groups were less well-regarded than European groups (Berry and Kalin 1995; Kalin 1996). ”Comfort levels” were highest for those groups perceived to be integrated into mainstream culture (Simon and Lynch 1999), and when there was a lot of inter-ethnic interaction (Kalin).
There are only a limited number of large-scale opinion surveys about immigration in mid-sized and small Ontario communities. A survey of more than 1200 individuals commissioned by the City of Kitchener showed that nearly 70 percent disagreed with the statement that there was too much immigration. When items were targeted toward immigrants and their acculturation, a majority (55 percent) agreed that immigrants should assimilate into Canadian culture and 67 percent felt that the city should provide a common set of services rather than customize programs for different groups and cultures (Abu-Ayyash and Brochu 2006). In Greater Sudbury, a report on attitudes about race relations found significant levels of resentment and discrimination towards visible minorities, Aboriginals and the Francophone population (Block 2006).

Attitudinal drivers
A significant body of research has examined the impact of objective economic conditions, subjective perceptions about the economy, group competition, or personal economic status, as well as individual occupational characteristics, on attitudes about immigration. Some Canadian scholars have argued that support for immigration is highly correlated with economic events, and that it plummeted during the recessions of the early 1980s and early 1990s (Hiebert 2003; Palmer 1996). In years when there were sharp relative economic changes from the previous year, Canadians were more likely to want to restrict immigration (Wilkes, Guppy and Farris 2007). Others have demonstrated that perceptions of economic competition, whether based on real economic conditions or merely perceptions of group competition, play a primary role (Esses, Hodson and Dovidio 2003). A related line of inquiry argues that subjective evaluations of one’s personal economic status are more important than objective status (Chandler and Tsai 2001). Economic competition models predicting that occupational characteristics influence attitudes about immigration have produced mixed evidence. According to these models, the presence of immigrants is believed to threaten and displace native-born workers due to the willingness of the former to work for lower wages. Consequently, the most vulnerable groups of native-born workers are expected to express the greatest aversion to immigration. Some studies have found that less skilled workers express the strongest aversion to immigration (Scheve and Slaughter 2001; O’Rourke and Sinnott 2004), but that the unemployed and the economically inactive have nothing further to lose by immigration (Gang et al. 2002).
Support for immigration in Canada also varies between social groups. In general, men, youths, and individuals with a post-secondary education are more likely to accept existing immigration levels, while women, older individuals, and those with less education preferred reduced levels. Economic competition models have been used to account for the lower support expressed by women and the less educated (Palmer 1996; Mahtani and Mountz 2002). Canadians who reported a non-Official Language mother tongue were also more likely to prefer increased immigration (Wilkes, Guppy and Farris).
Hiebert has detected puzzling differences in Canadian public opinion about immigration between the provincial and metropolitan scales. While more negative attitudes exist in provinces with high rates of immigrant settlement, the same is not true at the metropolitan scale in these same provinces (2003). He suggests this paradox might be explained by the more “immigrant friendly” views provided by immigrants in these same metropolitan areas. This urban/non-urban dichotomy thesis was supported by a study showing that residents of Vancouver and Victoria were more positively predisposed to immigration than British Columbians living in smaller cities and non-urban areas (Mahtani and Mountz 2002). The idea that residents in larger urban centres may be more open to immigration has been supported by a national study showing that residents in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver reported the highest levels of agreement with the proposition that immigrants have a positive impact (Environics 2000).
Hiebert’s survey of public attitudes about immigration in Greater Vancouver in 2001-2002 found that participants were supportive of immigration as a whole, but less so about refugees (2003). Although respondents approved of immigration from nearly all areas of the world, a hierarchy of cultural preferences was evident. Just over 70 percent expressed positive sentiments about European immigrants, compared to 50-60 percent who were positive about immigration from other parts of the world. The exception to this openness was the Middle East, as only 45 percent provided a positive response to immigration from that region. These findings may have reflected cultural bias or a short-term reaction to the events of 9/11. Attitudes were also shaped by differences in education and household income. In both cases, those occupying more privileged social positions expressed more support for immigration. Respondents with university degrees were more comfortable with immigration and were more inclined to agree that Canada had a moral responsibility to admit refugees. Those with fewer educational credentials tended to feel that Canada was accepting too many immigrants and that they took scarce jobs away from the native-born. These fears were associated with other concerns about disease and crime (2003).
The cultural and national origins of the respondents were less consistently associated with attitudes about immigration. Both European-origin and visible minority Canadians were equally supportive of immigration, though the former were more favourable to admitting refugees and to believe that Canada benefits from immigration. Few differences were noted in the attitudes expressed by immigrants and the Canadian-born. Some exceptions were that the Canadian-born were more likely to see admitting refugees as a moral responsibility and were more positive about immigrants from different world regions. The Canadian-born were also more likely to state that immigration rates were too high - a view linked to apprehensions that immigration places a strain on social services (2003).

Perceived benefits and disadvantages of immigration
Hiebert’s survey also probed the perceived benefits of immigration. Most respondents referred to cultural diversity and the economic advantages (e.g. labour market development and consumer demand) flowing from immigration, while a smaller number believed that immigration was important for demographic reasons. Those who mentioned diversity believed that it was more than just a source of interesting restaurant choices - that it promoted tolerance and personal growth. Several respondents praised the work ethic and courage of immigrants who had uprooted themselves to come to Canada (2003).
When asked to name the disadvantages of immigration, five types of statements were offered. First, about one-quarter of the Canadian-born believed that immigrants placed a strain on Canadian social programs. Secondly, 8 percent of all respondents associated immigrants with high rates of crime or terrorism. About the same number criticized the management and priorities of the Canadian immigration system. Fourthly, just over 100 respondents referred to refugees in negative terms, associating them with deceit and criminality. A few castigated the Canadian government for not admitting enough refugees. Finally, five percent of respondents felt that many immigrants were not attempting to adapt to the mainstream culture or dominant language (2003).
Welcome and capacity of small and mid-sized centres
The successful integration of immigrants depends on the willingness of local actors to provide a welcoming environment for newcomers. A welcoming community is the product of a collective effort to create a place where individuals feel valued and included. A sense of comfort, belonging, and mutual esteem among members of the established non-minority population and recent immigrants and minorities are essential ingredients for establishing successful, pluralistic communities (Dovidio, Gaertner and Esses 2008). A welcoming community attracts and retains newcomers by: identifying and removing barriers; promoting a sense of belonging; meeting diverse individual needs and offering services that promote successful integration, with successful integration defined as the “ability to contribute, free of barriers, to every dimension of Canadian life – economic, social, cultural and political” (Esses, Hamilton, Abu-Ayyash and Burstein 2010).

Given the relatively recent arrival of immigrants and minorities in many 2nd and 3rd tier Ontario cities, and the consequent lack of experience with diversity among the more established members of these communities, ensuring that such conditions are met can pose substantial challenges (Kunz and Sykes 2007). While larger immigration destinations have multiple service organizations, other regions suffer from a shortage of services or the absence of such organizations. Several reports on the challenges facing newcomers in the Waterloo Region have identified low incomes, underemployment, and the inability of qualified newcomers to fill vacant positions in the technology industry or immigrant physicians to find work, as issues. Immigrant youths also identified challenges stemming from having to reconcile contrasting cultures in the school and family spheres, language struggles, peer pressure and discrimination (Abu-Ayyash and Brochu 2006). Since the region hosts a higher proportion of refugees than the national average, reports have also identified the need for additional refugee services, as immigrants in this category are more susceptible to poverty and health problems.

The barriers inhibiting the integration and settlement of immigrants in London are commonly experienced in smaller cities across Canada. A large number of recent immigrants face unemployment or underemployment. London is facing a severe shortage of health care providers and lacks health and mental health support services for refugees who have experienced trauma and torture. Many newcomers are on waiting lists for ESL training or are unable to access language training because of issues related to traveling distance and child care. Many landlords will not rent to immigrants and many service providers will not provide services to immigrants, simply because of their status. As in Waterloo, the city has developed strategies and plans to address employment barriers, but other problems regarding health services, affordable housing, language and discrimination have until recently received less attention (Brochu and Abu-Ayyash 2006).
Greater Sudbury’s municipal government and non-governmental organizations have been working to recruit francophone immigrants, expand employment opportunities, stimulate diversity though arts and culture, nurture youth attachments to the community and facilitate cross-cultural awareness and interaction among children. Although a range of programs have been underway, Block identified a need for more services specifically designed for immigrants, in the areas of housing, health and the promotion of civic engagement (2006). In Ottawa, members of non-governmental organizations felt that the city had provided little leadership in immigrant settlement initiatives. A 2007 analysis of labour market integration for immigrants found that immigrants who landed between 1996 and 2001 experienced lower average incomes and higher unemployment rates than the Canadian-born. Programs and services that were limited or not targeted towards immigrants and employers were also mentioned as issues (City of Ottawa Economic Development and Strategic Projects Branch and the Employment and Financial Assistance Branch 2007).

Immigrants and visible minorities in the governmental and non-governmental sectors
Studies of visible minority representation on local councils in Toronto (Siemiatycki 2009), Ottawa (Biles and Tolley 2009) and Hamilton (Bird 2009) have found that visible minorities have not achieved proportional representation in the province’s largest immigrant-receiving cities. An email survey of candidates in the 2010 local elections in Ontario’s 23 largest cities found that visible minorities and immigrants were all strongly underrepresented in municipal politics. Following the elections, just 19 percent of council seats (including the office of mayor) were held by immigrants and less than eight percent of council seats were held by visible minorities, despite the fact that immigrants comprised 36.9 percent and visible minorities 32 percent of the general populations in these cities. Their low numerical representation challenges conventional wisdom that municipal politics is more accessible to new faces than provincial or national politics (Bird 2011). Bird points to the lower candidacy rates of these groups as a partial explanation for these trends. However, the lower success rates of visible minority candidates suggest they may also face additional obstacles once they become candidates.
There are no corresponding studies of visible minority or immigrant representation in the non-governmental sector of Ontario’s municipalities. However, national studies show a lack of inclusiveness in the senior ranks of public, private and non-profit organizations. Although visible minorities comprised 16.2 percent of the population (based on 2006 census data), they held only 5.2 percent of senior management positions in large companies and 1.6 percent of executive management positions in the federal public sector. Comparable figures for the non-profit sector are scarce, but a 2005 study in Alberta found that just five percent of the senior management of non-profit organizations were comprised of visible minorities in a province where they made up 11 percent of the population (Conference Board of Canada 2008).

Research Method and Study Design
This study relies on structured, focused comparisons of fifteen cases in order to explore interest, receptivity and capacity in Ontario’s second and third tier centres. The study is structured since the same questions were posed to the respondents in order to standardize data collection, and it is focused on four thematic lines of inquiry and not on all aspects of each municipality. The selection of a larger number of cases allowed for a more “orderly and cumulative” development of knowledge about the research questions (George and Bennett 2004). Fifteen municipalities were selected on the basis of their status as second and third-tier immigration centres outside the Greater Toronto Area. They included: Barrie, Brantford, Durham Region, Guelph, Hamilton, Kingston, London, North Bay, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines-Niagara, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Waterloo, and Windsor. These municipalities also host universities belonging to the Welcoming Communities Initiative (WCI) network of academic and community-based researchers.
A mixed qualitative-quantitative methods approach was adopted in order to investigate the research questions. The quantitative dimension of this study is based on a statistical analysis of the interview data, where the number and proportion of responses to the interview questions are compared across communities. The results of the quantitative analysis are presented in Tables 1 through 11 (Appendix A). The qualitative research strategy involved the administration of ten confidential, semi-structured interviews with opinion leaders from the governmental and non-governmental sectors in each municipality, for a total of 150 interviews. The semi-standardized interview features predetermined questions that are asked of each interviewee in a systematic and consistent order, but the interviewer has the freedom to probe beyond the answers. This flexibility allows interviewers to ask structured questions, permitting comparisons across interviews, and to pursue areas spontaneously mentioned by the interviewee. This approach has the advantage of producing a more textured set of accounts from participants (Berg 2009). The interview agenda tapped into opinion leader perceptions of local and regional (if applicable) government interest in immigration; the perceived advantages and disadvantages of immigration; perceptions of broader community interest in immigration and whether the community is welcoming to newcomers and visible minorities; evaluations of the community’s capacity to service newcomers and refugees; recommendations to improve the community’s welcome to immigrants and help them find meaningful work; and demographic data. A copy of the discussion agenda follows the reference section of this paper.
A purposive sampling selection method was used to select five interview candidates from the governmental sector and five interview candidates from the non-governmental sector in each of the municipalities. The sampling universe in each municipality was comprised of leading members of key local governmental and non-governmental organizations, who occupy a position of authority and who are in a position to influence decisions and public opinion in their respective communities. Within the government sector, lists of key officials from the municipal and regional (if applicable) governments, local government agencies, police, school boards and broader public sector organizations were prepared. These included all elected municipal and regional councillors, including mayors; senior staff in the municipal administration; the heads of local economic development agencies; the chief of police; the head of the public library board; the directors of English and French-language school boards in the public and Catholic systems; presidents of anglophone and francophone colleges and universities situated in the community; hospital presidents; and/or the heads of local public health boards. Within the non-governmental sector, the lists of key officials included: the presidents of local chambers of commerce and district labour councils; the chief executive officers or owners of major area employers; the editors of daily and weekly newspapers and/or television stations; the executive directors of community service organizations, charitable organizations, and community foundations, excluding immigrant service providers and ethnic and multicultural associations who have a direct interest in the outcome of the study. The data sources for these lists included organizational websites, the community information database, follow-up phone calls for information not in the public domain, and informed guides who are members of the Wci network.
After these lists were prepared, the principal investigators sent pre-contact letters by electronic mail to a random sample of 12 individuals from each sector, inviting them to participate in the study. The names of respondents who agreed to participate in the study were forwarded to Dr. Donna Dasko, Senior Vice-President of Environics Research Canada, a respected national polling firm. In some municipalities it was necessary to issue a second round of invitations to the remaining candidates on the list in order to achieve the target sample of ten. Candidates who had expressed an interest in participating in the study were then randomly selected by Dr. Dasko for an interview. Their identities were never revealed to the principal investigators in order to mitigate the potential for selection bias and to preserve confidentiality. Since an upper limit of ten was placed on the number of interviews that could be conducted in each community, response rates cannot be calculated in a meaningful way as there were more willing respondents than interviews to be granted in some municipalities. While the financial resources allotted to this project and short one-year timeline limited the total sample size to 150, the principal investigators are confident that their responses reflect informed and candid insights about their cities and towns, given the interviewees’ deep involvement in community life and their long average period of residency.
The interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed by Environics personnel, and then submitted to a team of research assistants from the University of Western Ontario and Brock University for qualitative and quantitative content analysis. For the qualitative analysis, an open, manifest coding process (Berg) was used to identify the thematic categories and tone (positive or negative) of the responses to the questions about government interest, the perceived contributions of immigration, personal evaluations of immigration, and perceptions of community receptivity and capacity. The thematic categories distinguished between historical, economic, social/cultural, political/civic (e.g. political and civic leadership), civic resources/infrastructure (e.g. availability of settlement services, networks of community, ethnic or religious organizations, housing, transportation etc.), community attitudes/group relations, and “other” factors. The coding categories were modified for the items where respondents were asked to recommend how the community could improve the welcome for immigrants (i.e. economic, social/cultural, political/civic, civic resources/infrastructure, community attitudes/group relations, educational), and to identify who should bear the onus for helping immigrants find meaningful work (i.e. government policies/programs, business sector/firm initiatives, NGOs, community member attitudes, other, no action necessary). Inter-rater reliability tests were conducted for the first two municipalities coded in order to ensure consistency in the qualitative coding of the interview questions. Agreement rates of 85-90 percent were obtained. Discrepancies were resolved through discussion so that subsequent coding was consistent across coders. A summary of the coding category frequencies is provided in Tables 12 thru 14 (Appendix B). The row counts will often exceed or fall short of 150 for two reasons: first, some of the longer excerpts from the interviews touched on factors that addressed several coding categories. This meant that the response of one individual was sometimes partitioned into two responses in order to capture that complexity. A second reason why the row counts may not total 150 reflects the fact that some questions were not answered by all respondents.

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