By: Susan Korah in Ottawa
Three labour experts have highlighted the critical need for radical changes in government policies and programs that are out of step with the current realities of most Canadians’ work lives.
They were speaking at a panel discussion on “In Search of the Next Gig: A Snapshot of Precarious Work in Canada Today” in Ottawa on January 25, hosted by Policy Options Magazine, a digital publication of the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP). Moderating the panel was Jennifer Ditchburn, editor of Policy Options, and former journalist with the Canadian Press (CP).
“If we are to walk the walk that matches our talk about how inclusive we are in Canada, those who create our labour policies and programs should take a close look at the precarious work situation that most Canadians are caught in, and design their policies accordingly,” commented Sunil Johal, one of the three panelists. Johal is policy director at the Mowat Centre, an independent public policy think-tank, associated with the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance.
The other two panelists were Francis Fong, Chief Economist with the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPAC) and Wendy Vuyk, regional coordinator of the Eastern Ontario Region at the Ontario Centre for Workforce Innovation.
“Most policies and programs intended to support Canadian job seekers are tied to conventional ideas of employment and were designed for the 1950s when there was a 9 to 5, lifelong job for the wage earner in a typical family,” he said.
Fong, Johal and Vuyk analyzed the changes that have sent the labour market into a tailspin, leaving employees with few options other than what all three, as well as Ditchburn termed “precarious work,” – short term jobs with no stability, few or no benefits, and no prospects of leading to a lifelong career path.
A major cause of the erosion of stable jobs and the growth of precarious employment was the decline of the manufacturing sector in the 1990s and early 2000s and the growth of the high-tech sector, the panelists explained.
Fong pointed out that even research on this topic is lagging behind the times. He emphasised that in order to capture the nuances of this new workforce reality, researchers need a clear definition of the term “non-standard work”, an umbrella term for all kinds of precarious work.
He said that the lack of consensus on a definition of precarious work poses a serious challenge for researchers, whose work underpins policy decisions.
“We need a formal definition of precarious work because precarious work will define our future,” he said.
He added that no single government agency is collecting all the relevant data, although Statistics Canada has been tracking it since the 1990s, a period which saw the rapid rise of this phenomenon.
The problem is further complicated, he said, by the need for the involvement of so many sectors --labour, immigration, the provincial and federal governments, as well as the private sector.
Stagnant wages, declining unionization
Highlighting another major problem, Johal discussed the disconnect between Canada’s overall economic growth and workers’ wages.
“While the economy continues to grow, wages have become stagnant,” he said, adding the costs of food, housing, childcare and other necessities have also gone up.
Johal also referred to the decline of unionization, which added to worker’s problems.
“Workers have nobody to represent them and speak about their issues,” he said.
He said the most vulnerable were the 30 percent of workers who were in precarious jobs because they had no other option, as opposed to the 70 per cent who did this type of work by choice.
“We need to focus on that 30 percent and to refresh our social policies and programs to address their needs,” he said.
Preparing for the future world of work: An optimistic outlook
Vuyk’s presentation focused on preparing for the future, given the changing economic landscape which she termed the “fourth industrial revolution.”
“Sixty-five percent of today’s elementary school children will work in jobs that don’t exist today,” she predicted.
Nevertheless, she presented an optimistic outlook, saying that although jobs will be lost, others will be created by new inventions.
She emphasized the need to train young people to become entrepreneurs and to think about their careers as a business.
She called on educators to emphasize soft skills such as communication, financial literacy, cross-cultural sensitivity, flexibility and adaptability.
She said it was important for also parents and guidance counsellors to understand that university is not the only key to gainful employment.
She advised parents to give their children as many life-broadening experiences as possible, including travel.
“We have to create a culture of lifelong learning,” she concluded.
Susan Korah is an editor and freelance writer who has worked with a number of publications while continuing to manage her personal travel blog. This piece is part of the "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontario" series.
Commentary by Hamlin Grange in Toronto
While working as a television journalist with Canada's public broadcaster, CBC, in Toronto, I produced a documentary series on how new immigrants were settling in Canada. It was part of an effort by the CBC to celebrate Pier 21, the point of entry for up to one million immigrants to Canada from 1928 to 1971. Pier 21 was often called the "Gateway to Canada." Today it is a national historic site and museum.
For the series, TV cameras followed a man and his wife on their journey from Shanghai to Canada, and in their early weeks of settlement in Toronto. They had worked as electrical engineers in power plants in China. Now, like all new immigrants, they were starting over.
We were there when they moved into their one-bedroom apartment above a convenience store. We were there when they went to the local job placement office to search for jobs and to update and print off their resumes. And we there when they bumped up against the stark reality of discrimination.
I knew him by his real name, which was, of course, Chinese. His accented English was quite good because he studied English in China. We talked frequently during those weeks, exchanging phone calls to catch up on his efforts to find a job.
Then one day I got a message that “Andrew” had called. I didn’t recognize the name. Once I called back, I recognized his voice right away. He was the same person I’d been talking to all those weeks, except his new name was Andrew. I asked him why he had changed his name. He said that acquaintances in Toronto’s Chinese community had advised him to change his Chinese name to a “Canadian name” if he wanted to get a job. That’s what Chinese immigrants have to do, he was told. Once he changed his name, his phone began to ring.
I recalled that story as I read a Toronto Star story about a new study by University of Toronto researchers. According to the study, 40 per cent of non-white job seekers are “whitening” their resumes in order to get called for job interviews. Names such as the Chinese “Lei” become “Luke”.
That’s not the only change applicants are making to their resumes in their effort to ‘whiten’ their profiles.
Only 10 per cent of African-Canadians who included experience with African-Canadian organizations were invited to interviews, but that rate jumped to 25.5 per cent when they deleted that experience from their resumes.
I can certainly relate to this. When I was recruited by the CBC in the late 80’s, a manager on the hiring panel asked me if I could be “objective” covering the black community because he noticed I had indicated on my resume that I had volunteered with a few black community organizations.
I told him I could be objective and that because of my involvement in that community I had unique access to a community other reporters did not have. I also pointed out that my resume also included my volunteer work with the YMCA and that I am certain I would be able to objectively cover stories about the Y. I got the job.
Sonia Kang, the lead author of “Whitened Resumes, Race and Self-Representation in the Labour Market” says the findings show that job applicants from racial minority groups are fighting back against discrimination.
In our practice at DiversiPro, we have heard these stories over and over. They are not new. We have been told of immigrants changing their names, their accents and their experience to be more acceptable to other Canadians.
We’ve also heard from immigrants from former British or French colonies in the Caribbean and elsewhere whose European names have disguised their race or ethnicities until they turn up for a job interview – only to find the welcome mat withdrawn.
In the current political climate in the United States, and to a lesser degree even in Canada, many individuals are cautious about how they identify themselves. In a time of "travel bans" and screening for "Canadian values", it's no surprise some new immigrants may decide to minimize their differences in order to be accepted.
The encouraging news is that new immigrants and people from racial minority backgrounds are finding ways to adapt and work around a system that is not often based on merit but how well a hiring manager believes a job candidate will “fit” into the organization.
I have no doubt that such short-sightedness has deprived companies of competent, hardworking individuals who could have contributed to the bottom line.
Commentary by Pradip Rodrigues in Mississauga
Last week, Canada’s innovation minister Navdeep Bains all but conceded that the Liberals needed to craft a positive message about boosting the number of immigrants into Canada. In other words those in favour of a massive increase need to put a spin on it. There is resistance to that idea from sections within the Liberal party as well as from Canadians worried about the effect more immigrants will have on their job prospects, let alone their children’s job prospects.
Following public consultations with Canadians coast to coast, Immigration minister John McCallum not so long ago insisted that wherever he went, Canadians were telling him they wanted more immigrants. Some might have literally been begging, especially in immigrant-rich places like Brampton.
It is the position of many Liberals, the business community and the elite at large who are for a massive intake of new immigrants, refugees, foreign students who they insist are needed to fill labour shortages. Any day now a new three-year immigration plan is expected to be unveiled, and it looks increasingly likely that the annual number of immigrants for 2017 will be a lot higher than in previous years. By the end of 2016, Canada will have welcomed well over 300,000 immigrants.
A minority favour higher immigration levels
In a Nanos Research poll conducted in August 39 per cent of Canadians felt Ottawa should accept fewer immigrants in 2017 than in 2016, 37 per cent were satisfied with the current levels and just 16 per cent thought we should accept more immigrants.
But then again, a Canadian, both old and new is for or against higher or lower immigration levels depending on their current financial situation, their social status and place on the food chain.
If the Canadian is a new immigrant trapped in a precarious work cycle or at the mercy of temp agencies, talk about Canada’s desperate shortage of workers and the need to import more immigrants would seem like a cruel and ongoing joke, after thousands of immigrants made that fateful decision to immigrate based on such ‘reports’ only to find themselves unemployed or underemployed.
Immigration is favoured by the elite
If you are a corporate CEO or business owner who stands to gain richly by bringing in skilled workers rather than invest and train young Canadians, increasing immigrant levels is in your interest.
The Liberal elites who often happen to be civil servants with job security and generous pension plans , university professors, media professionals and the affluent who aren’t threatened by waves of immigrants love the idea of a human flood. It makes for a feel good story about great success of Canada’s stunning diversity, generosity and multiculturalism. It contributes to a sense of national identity.
Neither are their jobs threatened by immigrants who won’t ‘qualify’ as they lack ‘Canadian experience’ and the demographic composition of their neighborhoods won’t be affected by immigrants seeking jobs and homes.
Currently there are many media commentators who are encouraging the government to heed experts and business leaders who support higher immigration levels. In other words, they infer that the tremendous pushback against the idea comes from less educated and racist Canadians. Some media commentators might almost want to call them ‘deplorables’ for their anti-immigrant mentality. After all how can Joe Sixpack know what’s good for the country?
In earlier times it was easier to defer to elites and experts on complex issues like the economy, there were few questions raised by the 50 per cent or so of the population who either had an average IQ, lower education and fewer skills. The reason was many of them had decent to well-paying jobs in manufacturing and the trades that didn’t require a college degree. But in 2016 this is not the case.
Technology is eliminating job categories
More jobs than ever before require complex skills and higher education. Even a car mechanic needs to be computer savvy and it may not hurt to have programming skills in the future.
But even if free training is available, can a person without the aptitude and mental agility master complex change? This new technological age is especially cruel to those in the arts as well as those not cut out for higher education.
There are millions of Canadians and Americans, mostly men who are currently unemployed, stagnating at dead-end jobs or have simply stopped looking for work. These are victims of technology changes and outsourcing. While the new report released recently by the Conference Board of Canada discusses the affect of an aging population on the economy and the need for higher immigration levels may have some merit, it simply baffles those at the lower end of the food chain. And no one pushing for more immigration seems to have taken into account the fact that technology is set to get rid of entire job categories . Between outsourcing and redundancy hundreds of thousands of jobs could disappear just as immigrants appear over the horizon.
Prepare for short-term employment
Our Finance Minister Bill Morneau recently told Canadians to prepare for an era of short-term employment he also noted that some people will see their jobs disappear in the years to come — truck drivers and receptionists, for instance.
So on one hand Canadians who want to work will find themselves working even less if at all and on the other hand we are reminded or a looming labor crisis.
As I write this column, there are thousands of Canadians trapped doing jobs they hate simply because there are few options out there. There are any number of university-educated millennials struggling to find jobs or hold down jobs that barely utilize their skills. Barristers are baristas at coffee shops in Toronto. Walk into temp agencies and you will find an endless stream of educated and mostly new immigrants hoping to luck out with a dead end job.
Big corporations may talk about the need for more highly-skilled immigrants, but they won’t promise not to ship jobs off to India and China when its convenient or more economical.
Most immigrants compete in crowded job categories
And one problem with skilled workers is that while they come into Canada as the principle applicant, they bring along spouses who may in all probability have skills that aren’t in high demand, in which case he or she will end up competing for scarce jobs with other Canadians. So technically for every one immigrant with skills, comes another who will join the crowded general job category. This could end up depressing wages at the lower end of the job market, naturally or add to the unemployment numbers. Why would a small businessman want to give his employees a livable wage that is well above minimum wage when there are any number of new immigrants and foreign students willing to work for less? Late last month a report from new survey from Aon Hewitt, a Human Resource firm, said Canadians could forget about getting a raise in 2017. They ofcourse refer to those in the private sector. Civil servants and others can expect good raises, not surprisingly, these are the ones most in favor of bringing in more immigrants.
Even brown Canadians are wary of increasing the number of immigrants, unless ofcourse they have family who’ve applied for immigration or student visas. There was a time small businessmen loved new immigrants who were willing to work for minimum wage and absolutely no medical benefits, now many of them are keen on a steady supply of foreign students. Why? Who else will work for $6 an hour?
Republished with permission
Commentary by Stewart Muir
City residents use British Columbia’s resource products such as natural gas on a daily basis, but how often do they stop to think about the significance of these goods in their own personal lives?
Probably not much.
Asian Pacific Post
BY DERMOD TRAVIS Executive Director IntegrityBC ANOTHER vacancy in a public boardroom and another B.C. Liberal party supporter ready and willing to fill it. News that Frank Carson – a partner at Victoria law firm Cox, Taylor – was appointed chair of B.C. Transit’s board of directors last week was met with the […]
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With Canada's economy still stuck in what is best described as neutral, you would think Canadian workers would be clamouring to scoop up what are reported to be scarce jobs across the country.
We know there has been an exodus of workers beating a path towards the Calgary airport as the battered oil patch bleeds jobs and sends workers back to their home provinces.
We've seen this kind of labour mobility reversal before and will likely see it again as the resource sectors continue to go through boom-and-bust cycles, changing the patterns of labour market mobility within Canada.
But this kind of high-profile migration obscures the fact that localized and regionalized labour market shortages are in still in play in many locations across the country, including Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador. Employers continue to struggle to match open positions with qualified (and available) job candidates.
A 2014 report by Miner Management Consultants estimates a labour force shortage of close to 2 million workers in Canada by 2031. That's an entire major city's worth of workers. It is also important to note that many positions continue to sit vacant today in semi- or lower-skilled occupational job categories in which Canadians are not lining up to work. Many of which are in the agriculture and agri-food sector, including 90,000 anticipated shortages in agriculture and 32,500 anticipated in food processing, as of 2015.
It must be remembered that the official unemployment rate of 7.3 per cent only tells part of the labour story. The other part shows that the current job vacancy rate is 2.5 per cent, representing some 316,000 open full-time, part-time and temporary positions.
Although the vacancy rate is down from the fourth quarter of 2015, it shows that employers still have a hard time filling roles across all skill levels and sectors. This makes sense. A skilled oil-field services worker used to making $80,000 per year is not lining up to move to a rural community to take a job in a slaughter house or processing plant.
We also have the other phenomenon of our system pushing young people to achieve higher and higher levels of education, only to find they cannot find related employment despite their mountains of debt. While teaching is a noble profession, we continue to stream (and fund) thousands of young people into university education programs despite grim job prospects.
I'm pleased to report the new federal government is showing signs it better understands the disconnect between labour shortages and the unemployment rate than the previous one.
While the federal government has indicated it will conduct a wholesale review of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), they also announced last month that they would temporarily ease restrictions for seasonal industries that use the TFWP, allowing them to bring in an unlimited number of workers for up to 180 days.
One of these days we're going to have to admit that even with wage hikes, terrific employers and focused recruiting, most Canadians remain unlikely to consider working at a fish plant or as a meat cutter, or even cleaning rooms at a hotel. If we're not going to take these jobs or encourage our kids to consider these jobs (but we still want these businesses in Canada), then we're best to allow some folks from elsewhere to come and take them.
Like many Canadians and international observers, I am proud to see the way Canadians rallied to welcome refugees from around the world. The significant bump in Syrian refugees to Canada is not only a credit to the new government, but provides a potential pool of labour for employers in months and years to come.
However, I remain concerned that the increase in refugee numbers has meant a cut in the number of economic immigrants Canada plans to welcome this year. Although the country is targeting up to 305,000 new permanent residents in 2016, the number categorized as economic immigrants is actually down from 2015. About 162,400 spots are guaranteed in this class, down from last year's 181,000. By contrast, the number of government-assisted refugees is up 284 per cent from 2015.There is serious work to do in order to tilt towards a growth-oriented immigration strategy, which includes a pathway to Canadian citizenship for temporary foreign workers. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business’s (CFIB) Introduction to Canada visa proposal is one such idea to replace the temporary foreign workers with a pathway to permanent residency.
Economic immigration has always been the lifeblood of Canada's economic success and has played a key role in the building of our great nation. While our immigration system has many goals, employers have a priority to ensure that immigrants of all skill levels are able to come to Canada for jobs where they struggle to find Canadians to fill them. I'm confident we can get there.
Dan Kelly is President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), Canada’s largest association of small- and medium-sized businesses, taking direction from more than 109,000 members.
By arrangement with the Asian Pacific Post
by Maria Ikonen in Ottawa
Moving to a new country can be stressful. It means leaving familiar places, people and aspects of everyday life behind. Whether arriving in Canada with their family or alone, adjusting to a new and unfamiliar environment for many newcomers is difficult.
Volunteering and getting involved in social activities has helped many adapt, and had positive effects on their overall well-being.
Originally from Pakistan, Shahnaz Ali, 44, lived in Saudi Arabia and the U.S. before coming to Canada in 2002. Encouraged by the principal, Ali began volunteering at her daughter’s school, and then later with the YMCA and a Sunday school.
She remembers the value of volunteering during those early days in Canada.
“Newcomers can get the opportunity to socialize and meet new people and get a better understanding of Canadian culture,” says Ali, who now volunteers with The Ottawa Hospital.
Sherri Daly, manager of volunteer resources at The Ottawa Hospital, describes volunteering as an effective way to learn about social norms in Canada.
“It is vital to get out of your house when you are new to a community or job hunting. Having meaningful things to do can be a way to build self-esteem and connections,” says Daly.
Gaining valuable work experience
Having local work experience may be vital when looking for new employment. In such a situation volunteering can be beneficial, explains Annmarie Nicholson, director of volunteer services at The Royal, a mental-health research and care facility in Ottawa.
“Simply put, it feels great to give back to others through volunteerism, plus there are opportunities to develop new skills,” says Nicholson. “Work experience as well is a very practical benefit to volunteering, and having a local reference person when applying for jobs is a big benefit as well.”
Besides learning about Canadian culture and creating new resume material, being active is a chance to help others, adds Andrea Tatarski, coordinator in humane education at the Ottawa Humane Society.
“Volunteers have the opportunity to give back to the community by making positive differences for the animals in our care, as well as the people we serve through our various programs and services.”
Improving mental health
Sinthuja Krishnamoorthy works in the Newcomer Youth Program at East Metro Youth Services, an adolescent mental-health and addictions centre in Scarborough, Ontario.
The program is geared toward engaging young refugees and those who have permanent residency in Canada in social and volunteering activities.
“Becoming lonely in a new country and being away from family can cause anxiety,” says Krishnamoorthy. “We help these newcomers discuss their issues in a safe environment.”
The biggest challenge for youth is often feeling confident in their language skills, Krishnamoorthy explains.
“They might not learn English as a second language in their home countries, or aren’t comfortable using it. This is where our daily conversations and interactive activity component comes in handy.”
Once program participants feel more comfortable, Krishnamoorthy says they have an opportunity to volunteer.
Participants have made mattresses from used milk bags to send to developing countries, for example.
“We want to keep youth active and interested,” says Krishnamoorthy. “We ask the youth what they would like to achieve by being in the program.”
Krishnamoorthy also has success stories to share. “One youth was shy at the beginning, but now he is going into his second year of medical school. Another young man [shared] in a television interview his understanding of what mental health is. [He said] speaking of it and seeking help has greatly improved his relations with his family and helped to improve his own mental health.”
Taking the first step
Many things may prompt a person to decide to volunteer.
One reason might be positive encounters with a particular organization.
“I had a friend who had a very good experience with the nursing staff when her father stayed at [The Ottawa Hospital], and she committed to volunteer to give something back to the cause,” shares Ali.
For others, the decision to start volunteering may arise from a personal situation.
“I lost my hearing about six years ago, and as that happened, my employer refused to accommodate my disability,” says one volunteer from The Ottawa Hospital who wishes to remain anonymous. “Volunteering at the hospital allows me to gain experience so that in the future I can find an employer who will accommodate [me].”
Some newcomers may be interested in volunteering, but are unsure of where to start or are hesitant to get involved.
Nicholson says that the best time to start is now.
“Facing all of the massive changes you have already faced through immigrating to our country has allowed you to build resiliency you may not recognize,” she says. “Share your concerns honestly with the agency you are considering volunteering with, and that agency will find ways to overcome the barriers that are contributing to your hesitancy.”
Says Ali: “I believe volunteering my time is the best way [to] appreciate all blessings in my life.”
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
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by Deanna Cheng in Vancouver
During the 2015 election campaign, one issue remained imminent for many Canadians: how will the newly elected government improve the economy? But, a question less pondered, of interest to many immigrant communities is how will the government improve economic inequalities.
One economics professor from British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University recently pointed out which promises made by the major political parties in Canada made would lower inequality.
“Inequality is more about wealth than income,” professor Krishna Pendakur said during a public lecture in Burnaby earlier this month.
Wealth, he said, is money generated from stocks, bonds, etc., and income is based on labour.
Pendakur said the Conservatives’ plan is vague when it comes to economic inequality – more commonly referred to as the gap between the rich and the poor.
“They promise to grow the economy, to have a bigger pie, then a trickle-down effect,” he explained. “Whatever crumbles from this pie and falls down to the rest of the 99 per cent, that’s it.”
Pendakur noted though that some trickle-down effect did happen with previous policies of low tax rates, low revenue and low public spending. “There was high skilled blue-collared incomes in Alberta while the party lasted.”
Looking to the Liberals and New Democrats, Pendakur said both parties promise to increase guaranteed income supplement, which is a good thing. The income supplement provides a monthly non-taxable benefit to Old Age Security recipients who have a low income and are living in Canada.
To get the supplement, the recipients must be legal residents in Canada and receiving the old age pension.
Addressing national inequality
Pendakur pointed out which policies each party promised would likely be most effective in addressing national inequality.
For the New Democratic Party (NDP), he said the two major ones are national subsidized childcare and national universal drug coverage. “Both are long term commitments and [Tom] Mulcair will need more than one election to see it through,” he commented.
Pendakur said political parties are careful about what they can claim because there are certain jurisdictions which federal governments don’t have a lot of control over.
Health care is decided at the provincial level, so that is why the NDP chose pharmaceuticals, he said.
“It’s good because, for some, even if they’ve seen a doctor and the doctor has written the prescription, sometimes people can’t afford the treatment at the pharmacy. It’s the biggest cost to someone’s health.”
Minimal wage is also a provincial jurisdiction, Pendakur explained, which is why the NDP promised a minimum wage of $15 per hour for federal workers. “100,000 workers will be affected.”
Turning to the Liberals, he drew attention to the party’s promise to increase child benefits with lower implicit tax rates on them.
The party also said it would raise tax rates on personal income over $200,000 by four per cent and lower income tax rates for the middle class from 22 per cent to 20.5 per cent.
Privileging particular demographics
During the Q-and-A session, an audience member asked Pendakur what he thought about the Conservative party’s income-splitting tax plan.
“Income splitting is awful,” Pendakur replied.
He said the plan values two-parent, two-income families and ignores every other demographic in the country. “Why is this particular demographic worth more than others?”
University of Fraser Valley student Anoop Tatlay agreed with him.
“I couldn’t pinpoint what it was about the [income-splitting tax] proposal that bothered me, but once he said it, it clicked,” stated Tatlay, who is a single mother. “I’d thought the same thing.”
Pendakur presented complex information in an engaging manner, said Tatlay. The newfound knowledge she gained motivated her to look more closely at the federal budget and public spending and try to understand it better.
As a Canadian citizen, the 37-year-old resident of Mission, B.C. said she plans to vote on Oct. 19.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
by Zoran Vidić in Belgrade, Serbia
Statistically speaking, Canada is still one of the most desired destinations for immigrants. But in real life, many new Canadians decide to look for their luck in some other country, or to go back to their country of origin.
According to a Statistics Canada study, “one in three male working-age immigrants to Canada wind up leaving the country within 20 years” and “about six in 10 of those who leave do so within the first year of arrival.”
Contrary to the widely accepted belief that Canada is nothing but immigration paradise, many struggling and hard-working people learn about the dark side of the Maple Leaf, mostly the hard way.
They usually find themselves underemployed, underpaid and working on a contract, without any security or benefits that other Canadians take for granted.
Don't stand out
“For almost a decade and a half, I felt like an outsider and a second-class citizen,” says Jovan, 42, formerly of Toronto. “When I tried to vocalize my concerns, everyone tried to prove me wrong, and to convince me we’re all in the same boat. Then, the Harper government passed the ‘second-class citizenship’ bill, and now we know for sure.”
Jovan completed his Master of Journalism degree at Ryerson in Toronto, and returned to live in Belgrade last January.
Like many young professionals who lived abroad and came back to Serbia, he is a member of the Repats Serbia, an informal club (and Facebook group with 1,250 members) where former ex-pats – now re-pats – exchange thoughts, help each other find jobs and offer advice to their fellow globetrotting compatriots and friends. At least once a month, they meet at one of Belgrade’s many colourful restaurants to swap stories.
“Canada is all about comfortable living,” says Jovan. “Take that out of the equation, and very little is left. Mediocrity is sort of a religion in Canada.”
Standing out, he says, is discouraged. “Canada wastes so much human potential, because it protects, favours and cultivates mediocrity, and that’s why you have doctors and engineers driving taxis in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.”
Poor social health
“Canada is an asocial madness,” says Aleksandra.
She still lives in Vancouver, but has made the decision with a few of her friends to return to Serbia. She knows several families who made the same move, but were back in Canada after a few years.
However, the “lack of healthy social relationships in Canada,” as she puts it, forced her to look for a fresh start in the old country.
She came to Canada eight years ago as a highly trained professional with a master’s degree from Belgrade University. In Canada, she specialized in watershed management, but is currently unemployed.
Despite scarce job opportunities, she has generally liked her Canadian life until she became a mother in 2013 and came to realize that she does not want to raise her child in a country with such a “poor social network, where it is a virtue to be asocial and without friends, without roots and without real goals in life.”
A more relaxed approach to life
Milena is a young professional working in the NGO sector. She completed high school and university in Ottawa, did her master’s program in England, and then returned to Canada only to get a six-month post at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Belgrade, where she arrived together with her Canada-born husband.
Then they decided to stay in Serbia.
“The worst thing about Canada is the winter,” says Milena. “I lived in Ottawa and the weather was driving me mad, as well as the ‘sleep-work-sleep’ lifestyle.”
Even though she had integrated well into Canadian life – “My husband didn’t even realize I was foreign-born when we met, that’s how Canadian I had become” – Milena never felt her Canadian friends could fully understand her.
But then, she says, upon returning to Serbia, “I started feeling how my soul is slowly returning into my body; I was becoming myself again. In Belgrade, people are more sociable and friendly, with a more relaxed approach to life. I missed that the most.”
Most of the repats are aware of the shortcomings and weaknesses of Serbia, and those are often the reasons why they left in the first place.
Although the years of war and isolation are long gone, and Serbia is now aspiring to join the European Union, some old problems – such as lack of good jobs, weak economy and extremely inefficient bureaucratic apparatus – persist.
The repats may miss the efficiency of Canadian public and business sector, lack of stress about getting paid for your work on time or getting fired without cause (if you’re lucky enough to be employed).
However, more people are becoming disillusioned by the dubious advantages the life of an immigrant offers.
“The economy in Canada doesn’t favour those who still believe hard work is enough to make living. A pension earned in Canada cannot cover the living expenses anymore,” says Danka, who is in her late 40s and now lives in Belgrade.
“My daughter decided to study in Belgrade at British College which we have to afford, because it is far less expensive then studying in Canada. We don’t want her to start her life with thousands of dollars in debt.”
And it’s not just school that’s more affordable in Serbia. “We like to travel and it is much easier and cheaper in Europe. We also like to attend cultural events, such as theatre, concerts… and all that is much more affordable in Serbia and Europe.”
Like Milena and Aleksandra, Danka finds the overall lifestyle in Serbia to be healthier and more socially active.
“We have straightened up our priorities, and have come to understand what matters the most in life.”
by Shan Qiao (@dmaomao) in Toronto
An editor's open letter following her firing by a Chinese-language newspaper over the Michael Chan affair has re-opened the conversation among "ethnic" journalists about professional standards and the future of the industry.
In her open letter to the Chinese media, Helen Wang, the former editor-in-chief of the Chinese Canadian Post (pictured left), claims she was fired because she published an article written by columnist Jonathan Fon criticizing Michael Chan.
“Not to mention the legitimacy of Jonathan Fon’s column, the fact [Wang] was fired without any reasoning indicates further evaluation is needed on Chinese media employees’ tough work environment,” Wang writes at the start of the open letter.
The letter continues by arguing that media, as a “social conscience,” should be separated from any government influence and reveal truth. However, the hardship of making a living working in the Chinese media is hard to ignore – some newspaper’s publishers sacrifice their journalistic standards in return for more advertising revenue.
Wang concludes by expressing her lifelong passion in working as a journalist, and promised to return to Chinese media in the future. Jonathan Fon, on the other hand, assured he would keep freelancing and speak out without being influenced.
Journalists struggle under pressures
Min Li, who used to work at a daily Chinese newspaper based in Scarborough, didn’t hesitate to speak about her frustration working as a reporter for seven years.
“What I don’t like the most is that my story was always compromised by heavy workload. I tried to be unbiased but at the end of the day, we don’t have enough resources or manpower to do a balanced story. It’s not about quality that we are working on. It’s the quantity the editor targets.”
Li adds: “The workload is fixed with two stories a day, at least 800 Chinese characters per story. Nobody cares how thorough or how balanced your story is as long as you submit two stories at the end of the day.”
Several months ago, Li quit the job and became a freelance interpreter. Without a stable bi-weekly paycheque or any medical benefits, she is determined to go in a new direction and build up a professional career she firmly believes in.
Li is lucky to be young and single. Jianxin Huang, on the other hand, is a father to two teenage children. He worked as an editor at a newspaper that no longer runs in the community, losing his job after three years.
Huang graduated from university in China with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Between his work experience in China and here after immigrating to Canada, he had been in the newsroom for two decades.
Huang had to enlist the help of Second Career, a program funded by the Ontario government that provides laid-off workers with skills training and helps them find jobs in high-demand occupations.
“I now work as a construction worker, going everywhere in the GTA. It’s very different than the job I had been doing for decades in newsroom, but I’m happy with what I got,” Huang says. Although his workload is quite literally heavier, he admits he earns a higher wage and gets more comprehensive medical and dental benefits, as well as work injury insurance.
What cost Wang her job at the Chinese Canadian Post was an article Jonathan Fon wrote right after the Globe and Mail published a two-day investigative feature on Ontario cabinet minister Michael Chan’s ties with the Chinese government and the fact he was investigated by CSIS, Canada’s spy agency.
Fon argued in his column (pictured right) that Chan doesn’t represent the Chinese community, only his constituents. CSIS’s investigation on Chan is about his own integrity and has nothing to do with the Chinese community.
Chan’s office has denied any involvement in Wang’s job termination.
Chan files lawsuit
In the meantime, Chan has already filed a libel suit with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice against the Globe and Mail for its two features that suggested his ties to the Chinese government. In the statement of claim, he seeks $4.55 million in general and punitive damages.
“This has been a difficult time for me and my family … Since these stories were published, I have given a great deal of thought to the impact the unfounded allegations against me will have in the immigrant communities of Canada,” the claim says.
In the claim, Chan also indicated that his personal goal “in this litigation is to clear my name and restore my reputation.” He will donate any amount awarded to him by the court to PEN Canada, a writers’ association for freedom of expression, and the Markham Stouffville Hospital Foundation.
During an interview with Sing Tao Daily, one of the largest Chinese daily newspapers in North America, Chan indicated that he has met with Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner, asking about who pays for his libel-suit fees given the triple identities he has as an MPP, a cabinet minister and a citizen. He said it would take the Integrity Commissioner one month to give a proper guideline.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit