B.C. shortchanged in federal transfer payments for immigrants

posted on April 16, 2015

By Peter O’Neil, Vancouver Sun | Link to Article

By Peter O’Neil, Vancouver Sun | Link to Article

OTTAWA — The vast gap between the size of federal government transfer payments to Quebec and to B.C. for immigrant integration services has widened significantly since a 2012 internal review suggested that the ever-increasing payments to Quebec weren’t sustainable, according to newly-released federal figures.

Around the time of the review, B.C. received roughly $3,000 for every permanent resident accepted in the province, compared to $5,100 for Quebec.

But Ottawa has since cut transfers for integration programs to most provinces outside Quebec at the same time that it has ramped up Quebec’s transfers to more than $6,600 a head, adhering to a controversial escalator clause in the 1991 Canada-Quebec Accord on immigration.

That 1991 deal, negotiated in the dismal depths of a national unity crisis, was described in an interview this week by the senior federal negotiator involved in the talks as “ridiculous” and “pretty outrageous” for Canadian taxpayers.

Quebec now gets $340.6 million a year to help settle around 50,000 permanent residents a year.

That’s a staggering $56.1 million increase from just two years earlier, and a 354-per-cent increase on the $75 million transferred in the first year the accord became operational.

“Quebec never loses. It’s a locked-up sweetheart deal,” said Chris Friesen, the Vancouver-based chair of the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance.

Quebec, with around 23 per cent of the population and the recipient of 20 per cent of Canada’s new permanent residents annually, is now getting 38 per cent of the federal transfers to provinces for immigrant integration.

B.C., with 13 per cent of the national population and 14 per cent of the immigrant and refugee intake, got 11 per cent or $95.4 million in 2014-15 — down $14.4 million from two years earlier — to help settle just over 36,000 new permanent residents.

And the imbalance is even more striking given that, as Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Richard Kurland points out, a significant portion of Quebec-bound immigrants end up living in B.C.

Immigrant settlement programs are designed to help newcomers integrate into Canadian society, offering support services in their native language, official language training, programs to help them connect with their community, and employment search services.

Due to the complicated escalator clause in the 1991 deal, which bases increases on Quebec’s immigrant intake and overall federal spending, the province’s “exponential” windfall could end up being equal to the entire settlement budget for the rest of the country, which was $566.3 million last year, according to Stephan Reichhold, head of a Quebec umbrella organization for non-government immigrant and refugee aid organizations.

But he said a huge chunk of the transfer — no one knows for certain, because Quebec isn’t required to report its spending to Ottawa — ends up in general revenues.

“Quebec takes more money to render fewer services to fewer people,” Reichhold said.

And there doesn’t appear to be any way out of the win-win deal for la belle province. Authors of the 2012 Citizenship and Immigration Canada report, obtained by Kurland, portrayed the accord as both unsustainable and unlikely to change, due to its “quasi-constitutional” status.

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