Millions for immigrant services in B.C. went unspent

posted on February 5, 2015

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

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

The B.C. government did not properly account for the hundreds of millions of dollars transferred from Ottawa for immigrant and refugee settlement services and did not spend all the money on the people it was intended for, according to a 2013 internal federal document.

The draft report, called Lessons Learned Study: British Columbia’s Contribution to Settlement and Immigration 1998-2013, appears to explain why the federal government stripped authority to run the program from the province effective April 1, 2014, said Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Richard Kurland.

“It certainly justifies it,” said Kurland, who obtained the document through the Access to Information Act.

The report noted that B.C. officials were “less than effective” in presenting financial information, and “significant amounts were not accounted for.” It also noted that the federal government did not do an adequate job of ensuring B.C. gave a full account of how the funds were spent.

“(Citizenship and Immigration Canada) officials had ongoing concerns regarding consistent lapsed funds, accountability and access to (program) evaluation findings. C.I.C. also had questions related to B.C. serving noneligible clients such as Canadian citizens and temporary foreign workers.”

The report said B.C. officials had indicated that the funding for non-immigrants and nonrefugees came from B.C.’s contribution to immigrant settlement coffers, which generally totalled eight to 10 per cent of the entire federal-provincial settlement budget.

“While B.C. noted that ineligible clients were served with provincial funds, it was not always clear for C.I.C. officials if this was in fact the case,” the report said.

B.C.’s Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Minister Shirley Bond, who is also responsible for immigration to the province, said federal Immigration Minister Chris Alexander and his predecessor, Jason Kenney, never raised any issues with her about B.C.’s management of settlement services funding.

“When the federal government made their decision to take over settlement services, we were advised that it was due to the introduction of a new national settlement program model,” she said in an emailed statement. “What I am very clear about is that all federal funds given to the province were tracked and reported on annually.”

Federal transfers, which were based on B.C.’s relative share of the incoming refugees and immigrants, totalled $37 million in 2004-05, which gradually increased to a high of $128 million by 2009-10, more than triple the mid-decade total.

B.C. accumulated $80 million in deferred spending during the 2006-09 period, when federal funding was at its peak. The total has been in decline since then, falling to $104.1 million in 2013-14.

While the B.C. government did present a plan to spend those deferred funds by 2016, federal officials “felt that the funds were not invested in a timely manner and lacked the appropriate level of accountability and planning.”

“It’s embarrassing,” Kurland said. “The B.C. government received a lot of money from Ottawa that was to be used for B.C. immigrant settlement services, but it turns out the B.C. government didn’t always spend it on deserving immigrants. It boggles the mind.”

Chris Friesen, director of settlement services for the Immigrant Services Society of B.C., said the issue of unspent funding was a national one.

When the Conservatives took power in 2006, they tripled the national budget for immigrant settlement services, something the sector had long advocated, Friesen said. But the money came too fast for the provinces to figure out how it should be allocated. B.C. and Manitoba were the only provinces that did not have to return the unspent money to Ottawa, because of the nature of their agreements with the federal government, Friesen said.

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