By now we’ve all heard about the Syrian refugee crisis and listened to the arguments for and against welcoming high numbers of refugees into our countries. Municipal and regional governments must also consider how they will adapt to hundreds or thousands of new residents in their cities.

By the end of this year, Germany will welcome over a million refugees from Syria and at least thirty percent of them will be formally accepted as refugees. For a variety of reasons, German mayors have been overjoyed to add these new residents to their population base–to rebuild their labour and tax base, repurpose abandoned housing or other surplus buildings, or take advantage of new funding for housing designated by the national government. Germany has an aging population and one of the lowest birth rates in the world.

Short-term housing needs are at the top of the list of considerations for municipalities and regions–in cities like Berlin, sports arenas and even airports have been used for emergency housing. German ministers recently met to rewrite the country’s rigorous building code to allow hundreds of thousands of prefab public housing units can be built in mere months–up to 35,000 this year and another 35,000 next year. Housing Minister Barbara Hendricks pledged $270 million for this rapid construction and also doubled municipalities’ existing $770 million budget for public housing.

Refugees are allotted into cities by quota, depending on cities’ size, labour market, and demographics: for example, the less diverse a city, the more likely it will receive a higher number of refugees. Berlin is obliged to take 5% of all refugees. There are 16 German regions, and special trains from Munich allow refugees to travel to their new homes.

Shrinking cities, like Leipzig, see the incoming refugees as both a responsibility and and an opportunity for renewed growth–with labour market shortages and BMW and Porsche factories, there are ample opportunities for newcomers. Other cities, which may have surplus housing leftover from booming economic times but no real industries to offer jobs, are in weaker positions. Cities such as Neukolln, where half of the population does not speak German as a first language, have not been assigned any quotas because they are already diverse, and likely to attract refugees and immigrants in the second wave of migration because they have a variety of economic opportunities and ethnic communities.

While there are obvious problems with trying to resettle refugees in areas that may not offer them the cultural, language, and other support they need to thrive, these issues could be partially addressed through targeted service provision in addition to the new housing. For example, providing resettlement and counselling support to those who have fled intolerable political persecution, employment support, language classes, and opportunities for children and youth to socialize and learn about their new country. Offering micro-loans to accepted refugees who would like to start their own businesses may help in the establishment of ethnic grocery stores, credit unions, and other services for the Syrian community. While these efforts may not be enough to keep refugees in German cities cities that do not offer long-term economic or social inclusion opportunities, they would be critical in preventing isolation, frustration, and the development of income-enforced enclaves (where people live because they feel have no other economic or socio-cultural ability to move out). While it’s natural for ethnic communities to form around social, religious, or language needs, people should be able to work, go to school, or do everyday activities with members of other ethnocultural groups. Extraordinary efforts also need to be made in cities/regions that had previously been shrinking: they would have to supply more teachers, more health care workers, more public transit service to serve the increased population.

This is assuming that the German public accepts the long-term integration of refugees, which could be a problem. Like many countries, short-term economic integration (like their “guest” worker category for Turkish men from the 1960s and 1970s) has been accepted, but long-term is another story. It was just this year that the German Parliament passed legislation to allow children of migrants who were raised or educated in the country to adopt German citizenship, while keeping their own. It remains to be seen whether Germans will accept the influx of Syrians in the long run.

Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program has come under fire in the past few weeks for increasing the jobless rate among Canadians. Critics say that the program has resulted in the firing of Canadian workers, and lower wages and exploitation of foreign workers. Even harsher criticism has hinted at the potential development of a illegal labour force in Canada, since these workers have no support system and are vulnerable to abuse. Some companies, particularly fast food chains, have allegedly been abusing the program to hire foreign workers at lower salaries than Canadians. McDonald’s reports that only 4% of its over 85,000 staff in Canada are foreign workers, but it is one of the companies at the heart of the allegations; the company recently put a hold on hiring temporary foreign workers. Tim Horton’s and the Royal Bank of Canada have also been implicated.

Canada’s TFW program was created in 1973. The program was designed to allow companies to find only employees in key occupations, industries, or regions with proven labour shortages: in this case skilled workers, seasonal agricultural workers and live-in caregivers. Foreign workers, because they do not have permanent residency in Canada, were intended to fill short-term labour shortages while employers found local candidates. In 2002, the program was changed to cover all types of low-skilled workers through a pilot project for occupations requiring lower levels of formal training. Employers must have an approved Labour Market Opinion from Employment and Social Development Canada that shows:

  • the job offer is genuine
  • the wages and benefits are comparable to what would be offered to a Canadian worker
  • the employers has conducted reasonable efforts to hire and train Canadians for the job
  • the foreign worker is filling a labour shortage
  • the employment of the foreign worker will directly create new job opportunities or help retain jobs for Canadians
  • the foreign worker will transfer new skills and knowledge to Canadians, and
  • the hiring of the foreign worker will not affect a labour dispute or the employment of any Canadian involved in such a dispute

Since 2002, additional conditions were imposed for low-skilled workers, including the payment of return airfare by the employer, proof of medical insurance coverage for the duration of the job contract, support from employers to find suitable accommodation, and registration under the relevant provincial workers’ compensation regime. Before 2002, companies were required to pay TFWs the median wage for an occupation in a specific region; changes that year resulted in employers being able to pay high-skilled TFWs 15% and low-skilled TFWs 5% less than the median wage, as long as the wage remained above the minimum wage. Companies that hire workers through intra-firm transfers or from a country with an international agreement (e.g. the North American Free Trade Agreement) do not require an LMO and do not need to search for domestic workers first. Also, some provincial programs do not require LMO applications. In 2007, the length per permit for temporary foreign workers was extended from one to two years. Between 2007 and 2010, the Expedited Labour Market Opinion (E-LMO) pilot project allowed BC and Alberta employers faster and cheaper access to temporary foreign workers, initially for 12 occupations, but in 2008 this was extended to 33 occupations. In 2011, the length of time that temporary foreign workers could live in Canada was extended to four years.

A report from Canadian think-tank C.D. Howe asked the question, “Are temporary foreign workers really filling labour market shortages?” Dominique M. Gross, author of the report, says that the program grew from 101,000 workers in 2002 to 338,000 by 2012. In Alberta and British Columbia, the report says that the program potentially raised the unemployment rate by about 3.9% from 2007-2010. In 2008, employers in the two western provinces hired more than five times the number of confirmed low-skilled TFWs through LMOs than employers in the rest of Canada.

Between 2002 and 2013, Canada eased the hiring conditions of TFWs several times, supposedly because of a reported labour shortage in some occupations, especially in western Canada. By 2012, the number of employed TFWs was 338,000, up from 101,000 in 2002, yet the unemployment rate remained the same at 7.2 percent. Furthermore, these policy changes occurred even though there was little empirical evidence of shortages in many occupations. When controlling for differences across provinces, I find that changes to the TFWP that eased hiring conditions accelerated the rise in unemployment rates in Alberta and British Columbia. –Dominique M. Gross, Temporary Foreign Workers in Canada: Are they Really Filling Labour Shortages?

In short, the report says, there was no shortage of labour in either province from 2007-2010, particularly of low-skilled workers. Other provinces experiences similar unemployment trends even without the E-LMO pilot.

Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney has already announced changes to the program, allowing on-site inspections of employers to ensure compliance to the rules, requiring that employers have a plan to transition to a Canadian workforce over time, and ensuring foreign workers are paid salaries comparable to Canadian workers. The flexibility of wage setting around median values has been eliminated, employers now must advertise all positions for four weeks, and English and French are the only possible required languages unless another is shown to be essential. A $275 fee per application and $150 visa fee have also been introduced for employers. This week, Kenney announced that the fast food industry would be banned from using the TFW program. This makes sense because these jobs do not require skills, and the jobless rate among Canadian youth, who would normally fill these jobs, has been high for years–in 2012, 13% of those aged 15-29 were not in education, employment or training. On April 8, a Victoria high school student was called in for an interview at a McDonald’s location; he had previously been rejected for the job when the manager said he would be hiring 11 temporary foreign workers.

However, these changes may not be enough: the C.D. Howe Report notes that in the US, part of the high $2325 fee used to hire a single foreign worker is used to train domestic workers; the fees in Canada are much lower than the cost of relocating a domestic worker from another province. Other countries also place a cap on the number of TFWs that may enter each year; in France, Italy, the UK, Spain and the US, TFWs are limited to very specific industries and occupations with very low unemployment rates. This makes it easier to monitor the availability of domestic workers in those in those sectors. Better labour market information is also needed to ensure that labour market shortages actually exist.

The Conservative and Liberal governments strongly backed the Temporary Worker program in order to satisfy industry claims of labour shortages, but now Kenney says that employers should respond to general skills shortages by increasing salaries, wages, benefits, and training. Canada has allowed companies to hire abroad for highly skilled engineers, millwrights, nurses, and others for decades; we have other immigration streams that allow these workers to enter the country and obtain permanent resident status at the same time. The problem is that these streams are overflowing with talented, university-educated employees, making waiting lists up to a decade long. Over fifteen years of research shows that poor links between immigration and labour markets prevail: once these highly-skilled, well-educated permanent residents enter Canada, they are unable to find work in the very industries that need them. Long application times and poor links between work experience and actual employment are but two of the reasons that applicants and employers alike turn to other streams that offer them quicker results–like the Live-in Caregiver and Temporary Foreign Worker Programs.

During Kenney’s tenure as Citizenship and Immigration Minister, he was charged with fixing this broken system. And he did–by forcing everyone who had a current application in the system to withdraw their applications and try again, by raising the minimum amount required for investor immigrants to $800,000, by adjusting the points system for skilled workers to emphasize language skills and by introducing new requirements for refugees and asylum seekers. Every move he made was controversial. The federal government announced on April 22 that they will be creating an Express Entry system to allow skilled immigrants to fill open jobs for which there are no Canadian candidates. Under this new system, applicants would submit an Expression of Interest indicating their skills, education, and work experience, and these would be matched by provinces, territories, and employers. Where there’s a match, applicants under the Federal Skilled Workers, Federal Skilled Trades, Canadian Experience Class, and Canadian Business Class Programs would be offered Express Entry. A valid job offer would guarantee that the applicant qualifies for permanent resident status.

There are no quick fixes to these problems, but clearly both TFWs and Canadians are suffering because of the loosening of program restrictions in the past decade. Employers are the only winners in this game: they get cheaper labour, more vulnerable workers who are willing to work under less favourable conditions, and do not have to be concerned about the long-term consequences of their hiring practices.

Vancouver newspaper The Province is running a 15-day series on racism in Canada starting today: Monday, October 7th. As a researcher interested in immigration and a second-generation immigrant, I am always interested in dialogues about multiculturalism, immigration policy, and immigrants’ integration. Many of my readers have been directed to my website from web searches. One post in particular, “Modern racism in the most multicultural city in the world”, has drawn a higher number of views and comments than others. Since it was published in 2009, it has gotten about 8,000 views–last month alone it had 635 views. Susan Lazaruk of The Province asked to reference the post in the paper’s 15-day series.

In the interest of journalistic accuracy, I will summarize my answers to Susan’s questions here. As a Canadian researcher, I frequently present my work in the US and am astounded at the role that race continues to play in issues such as housing location, the distance people travel to school or work, and employment opportunities. As Canadians we compare ourselves to other countries, including the US, and I think most people would agree that immigrants and visible minorities in Canada are much more socially and spatially integrated and suffer from less societal and institutional racism than they do in other countries. There has been considerable research on the lower rates of residential segregation, for example. However, racism is like sexism; it is entrenched and will likely always be with us, though it diminishes over time. Admitting that modern racism still exists in Canada is not to say that it’s a terrible place to live. Canada only began to accept immigrants from non-European countries in the 1950s, and this was highly regulated until 1967 when the numbers of visible minorities began to increase at a considerable pace. So it’s remarkable that we’ve progressed from quite overt institutional racism (including a quota on immigrants from India) to the much more subtler forms of modern racism in just 60 years.

It’s very interesting living in Amsterdam as an immigrant. I’ve faced all the challenges many of the immigrants to Canada face, including not speaking the language of the country and being singled out by my ethnic identity (“Canadian” doesn’t seem to be enough to satisfy questions!) I live in a neighbourhood with a high concentration of other immigrants. While my job requires no knowledge of Dutch, it is difficult to find work in other industry sectors without the language and tough for immigrants to build professional networks.

Given the level of interest in modern racism in Canada indicated by the response to my blog post, I encourage readers to check out The Province in the next two weeks. I imagine that this series will spur all kinds of debate and commentary, which is a good thing.

The Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars has recently published a report on the state of the estimated 9,000 postdocs in the country. The report highlights postdocs as yet another highly-skilled but low-paid profession in a polarized labour market.

Their survey of 1,830 individuals at 130 universities showed an equal breakdown of men (53%) and women (46%) with an average age of 34. Over half of the postdocs in Canada are permanent residents (15%) or on work visas (38%). In the survey, 46% of respondents worked in the Life Sciences, 32.4% in Physical Sciences/Engineering, 13.7% in Social Sciences/Humanities and 8% in an Interdisciplinary field. Most postdocs were between 2-3 years in length.

Key concerns of Canadian postdocs are administrative ambiguity, low compensation and benefits, and insufficient training. These concerns arise from the unclear employment status of postdocs, who often exist in a hazy mid-ground between student and employee status, missing out on the benefits of both. With an average income of $40,000-45,000, less than half are satisfied with their salaries and only 29% are satisfied with their benefits. This has to do with the fact that postdocs are often paid through tax-exempt research fellowships, and therefore do not have access to Employment Insurance, maternity leave, or the Canadian Pension Plan. Although several universities, such as the University of Toronto, have now reclassified their postdocs as employees, others classify their postdocs as mere trainees, which contradicts the years of graduate school required to do research. This is very different from the situation in The Netherlands, where Ph.D.s and postdocs alike are classified as employees with corresponding salary scales and benefits. Foreigners are even able to apply for a lower tax status (the 30% tax rule) as postdocs.

While postdocs used to be viewed as short-term stepping stones to full-time academic positions, this is no longer the case. Nearly one-quarter of the survey respondents said their career goals had changed since starting their position, with the most common explanation being the unfavourable job market. As most postdocs will not obtain faculty positions (unless there’s a significant increase in the number of positions for new faculty), postdocs have identified the need for training that will help them succeed in non-academic settings. This includes grant/proposal writing, project management, group or lab management, and negotiating skills, among others.

The survey was supported by MITACS, a national not-for-profit organization that supports national innovation by coordinating collaborative industry-university research projects involving graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. To download the survey, click here.

Zwarte Pieten arriving from Spain

Sinterklaas arrived in Amsterdam today, November 18th–not coincidentally, the same day as the Santa Claus Parade in many Canadian cities. An estimated 300,000 children line the canals and streets of Amsterdam to greet Sinterklaas as he arrives by steamboat with his helpers, the Zwarte Pieten. The arrival of Sinterklaas (intoch van Sinterklaas) has been celebrated in Amsterdam since 1934 and transmitted on live TV since 1952. The Dutch maintain a separation between Sinterklaas and Santa Claus, who they call Kerstman (the Christmas Man).

In the Dutch tradition, Sinterklaas lives in Spain (where the remains of the actual St. Nicholas lie). In mid-October, he leaves Spain by steamboat and arrives in the Netherlands, in a different Dutch city each year, then travels throughout the country. This year he arrived in Roermond, in the southern province of Limburg. While he stays in town, he’s considered the most important person in town–even more than the town’s mayor. His arrival also starts the traditional Christmas shopping season, which used to go up until December 6th, St. Nicholas Day. On the eve of the 6th, children leave out carrots by their wooden shoes for Sinterklaas’ horse, since he travels from house to house delivering presents on a white horse.

Sinterklaas arrives by steamboat from Spain

The Zwarte Pieten, the hundreds of Moorish helpers who work for Sinterklaas, deliver the presents by sliding down each chimney (the Zwarte Pieten also traditionally had the dubious job of catching naughty children and stuffing them into burlap sacks). Traditionally, the beautifully-wrapped present would be accompanied by a funny poem describing the recipient, written by Sinterklaas. It would be opened on December 6th. Children’s shoes would be filled with marzipan and other treats.

The tradition of Sinterklaas was brought to the US by Dutch immigrants, where the tradition of the Zwarte Pieten was presumably changed to elves. The Zwarte Piet controversy can be traced to Dutch colonial times: according to folklore, Sinterklaas had a Moorish servant boy named Zwarte Piet. During WWII, Canadian soldiers who liberated the Netherlands noticed the joy that the tradition of Zwarte Piet gave to the local children during the wartime years, and held a Zwarte Pieten party with many of the characters. Today, the intoch van Sinterklaas features over 700 Zwarte Pieten. The Dutch have tried to dispel the obvious racial overtones by rewriting the story to suggest that the Zwarte Pieten are not people of African descent, but are merely dirty from sliding down chimneys all night. (Just last year, the Dutch community celebrating Sinterklaas’ arrival in Vancouver with the Zwarte Pieten resulted in opposition by the African-Canadian community). The controversy hasn’t dimmed the excitement of the local children: when I attended this year’s intoch, the children cried out for Piet, not Sinterklaas, and many sported Zwarte Piet medieval costumes and hats. Sinterklaas is dressed as a priest with red robes, bishop’s hat, and gold mitre. The Pieten hand out pounds of candy and pepernoten, bite-sized ginger cookies. Large taai-taai, shaped as Sinterklass, can also be found in local shops.

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piete on wrapping paper

It’s interesting to see the progression of St. Nicholas from a third-century Greek bishop known for generosity and kindness to children, to stories around the world of his protection of the poor and of sailors going away to sea. In cities from Montreal to Amsterdam, the church of St. Nicholas stands at the main port of the city as a symbol of protection at sea. In Greece, the coastline features many small white chapels dedicated to St. Nicholas. After WWII, American soldiers dressed up as Santa Claus to give out toys to children in war-torn England, Italy, France, the Netherlands, and later Germany and Japan. In the Netherlands, during the weeks leading up to December 6th, kids can watch the Zwarte Pieten news on TV to see what’s going on with Sinterklaas. In Canada of course, we all await Santa’s arrival from the North Pole, where he makes toys for good boys and girls with the help of his elves. Dutch immigrants to Canada, as well other ethnocultural groups such as Greeks and Ukrainians, have helped shaped our Santa Claus tradition, which includes a parade in mid-November.

There have been a few interesting articles lately discussing immigrants’ employment success in Canada. Last week, The Globe and Mail published a story about a new project begun by Maytree, a charitable organization that runs all kinds of interesting programs to help employers hire new immigrants, train and mentor newcomers to organize political campaigns or run for office, and share best practices in integration. Maytree’s current project, under its Assisting Local Leaders with Immigrant Employment Strategies (ALLIES) initiative, connects skilled immigrants with small- and medium-sized businesses. Small- and medium-sized employers hire about 64% of private sector employees, but many immigrants don’t know about them. The companies may lack the human resources skills and staff to recruit immigrants.

Immigrants’ paths towards economic success have been linked to many factors, including acceptance of foreign credentials and immigrants’ social networks. A paper recently released by Metropolis BC, using the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada (LSIC), found that immigrants take different paths towards employment depending upon their immigration category. In 2007, 60% of immigrants to Canada were economic, 25% were family immigrants, and 15% were refugees. Immigrant Category, Social Networks, and Ethnic Workplaces over Time: A Longitudinal Analysis of Immigrants’ Economic Integration in Canada (Metropolis BC Working Paper 11-10) summarizes the study conducted by Wendy Roth, Marc-David Seidel, Dennis Ma and Eiston Lo. The authors analyzed LSIC data, collected 6 months, 2 years, and 4 years after immigrants’ arrival in Canada, to determine how the workplace type (ethnic or non-ethnic) influences the ethnic composition of social ties, and how these two factors impact immigrants’ economic success. They found that economic immigrants benefit from non-ethnic workplaces, family immigrants face economic penalties when they enter the open economy, and refugees benefit from entrepreneurship. In short, “Immigration policies sort immigrants into different labour market trajectories with different financial returns.”

Family immigrants are more likely to remain in the ethnic labour market, leading to co-ethnic friendships. When they move into the open economy, they are less likely to reap its benefits than economic immigrants. They’re also less likely to benefit from entrepreneurship than refugees, who use this as a path to long-term success. Obviously, family immigrants were sponsored by their relatives; 37% of economic immigrants and 65% of refugees had relatives in Canada before immigrating. Economic immigrants are more likely to speak English or French, and have higher levels of education, facilitating non-ethnic social ties and employment in non-ethnic workplaces. Interestingly, the ethnic concentration of the CMA and the presence of friends or family in Canada before immigration had no impact on the odds of working in a non-ethnic workplace or the odds of making non-ethnic friendships. However, people who made friendships through friends and relatives in Canada or through religious activities were more likely to make ethnic friends, while making friends through ESL classes or work more often led to non-ethnic friendships. Those who form mainly non-ethnic friendships early earn higher incomes. While economic immigrants develop diverse social networks and move into the open economy, family immigrants tend to make their contacts and maintain employment in the ethnic market, facing economic barriers to success elsewhere. However, the authors stress that family immigrants often provide support for their families, such as child care, which has economic benefits. Refugees’ relative success from entrepreneurship seems to reflect the support they receive from private sponsors or the government.

This is further fuel for my dissertation, which found that structural changes, such as changes in immigration policy, impacted the housing and transportation choices of Filipino immigrants over several decades. Policy is a remarkable sorting agent, and sub-categories such as the Live-in Caregiver Program or Entrepreneur Class can have major impacts on immigrants’ housing and transportation trajectories. Social networks were crucial factors in finding housing and transportation options, not to mention finding jobs and accessing bridging or training programs.

Happy 144th Birthday Canada! What a year it’s been: Jack Layton leading the NDP to their highest number of seats ever in the House of Commons, the elections of Stephen Harper, Rob Ford (Mayor of Toronto) and Naheed Nenshi (Mayor of Calgary). Massive arrests at the G20 riots and Vancouver going all the way to the Stanley Cup final (then rioting). The launch of Spacing Magazine’s first national issue profiling urban issues across the country, and the removal of the long-form Census. The appointments of hockey superstar Hayley Wickenheiser, comedian Eugene Levy, and journalistic wonder Malcolm Gladwell to the Order of Canada, just in time for Canada Day. And of course, the arrival of Wills and Kate in Ottawa for their first royal visit, in time to mark the late Princess Diana’s 50th birthday (wait for it…July 1st, 2011).

This Canada Day also marks a one-year anniversary for www.renthomas.ca: it has been a year since I have begun collecting stats on this website. In the past year, over 10,000 viewers have visited the site; this June a record 1,200 viewers stopped by (an average of 40 per day). Just because anniversaries tend to bring out reminiscing, here are the most popular posts in the past year:

Top 10 Posts on www.renthomas.ca

  1. Does Canada have an Ivy League? (1,500)
  2. Modern racism in “the most multicultural city in the world” (922)
  3. Segregated or integrated? American and Canadian ethnic populations (358)
  4. SCARP + SALA: Design presentations (347)
  5. SCARP + SALA: Our new building (186)
  6. A roundabout way of decreasing pedestrian safety (122)
  7. Toronto’s “class divide” (120)
  8. Immigrant settlement patterns in Toronto (99)
  9. Toronto does not equal New York (82)
  10. A new era for transportation planning in Toronto? (76)

 

Wait, what? 1,500 of you read a little piece I wrote on Canada’s lack of Ivy League schools? Amazing: a post that grew out of observations I had made whenever I presented at American conferences has somehow drawn so many to this site. I’m pleased that hundreds have also been interested in my main areas of concentration: immigration and transportation issues in Toronto, Vancouver, and Canada. Stay tuned, I’ll be writing more on these topics in the coming months. Many local readers found my site through a couple of articles I wrote on the design process for the proposed School of Community and Regional Planning joint building with the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (#4 and #5); their publication resulted in my highest daily number of viewers in November 2010. Clearly I have attracted both local and international readers who share my interests and follow the latest posts. Thanks so much to everyone who has found the site and stopped to read some of my thoughts on urban planning issues. Happy Canada Day and for those of you in the US, Happy Fourth!

Two weeks ago, after the Conservatives’ budget triggered a non-confidence vote, a federal election was called for May 2, 2011. This is the third election since 2006, the beginning of Stephen Harper’s reign as Prime Minister with a minority government. Like many Canadians, I certainly don’t enjoy the added cost of these elections, but I’ll pay any price I can to have the chance to vote Harper out of power and prevent him from winning a Conservative majority.

I realize this is an unusual stance to take in Canada: voter apathy is said to run rampant here (voter turnout is usually between 70 and 80 percent of registered voters, which represents 40 to 50 percent of the country’s population). Moreover, it’s an unusual stance for someone who supports the NDP. Given the fact that cities never fare well in federal elections due to the distribution of seats across Canada, and the parliamentary first-past-the-post system, I will probably never see an NDP Prime Minister. Like many Canadians supporting the left, I’ve become resigned to the fact that I probably won’t even see an NDP MP elected in my riding. When I lived in Ottawa, it was in Ottawa-Vanier, which has been Liberal since its establishment as a federal riding in 1935. In Vancouver, the two ridings I’ve lived in have also swung Liberal; this year, I’m in Hedy Fry‘s riding (she’s been in power since 1993). So am I just “wasting” my vote?

I was raised by immigrants from a strongly democratic country: Indian citizens (both men and women) have had the vote since 1935. Influenced by British rule, India shares the Canadian experiences of the first-past-the-post system and minority governments. Yet despite acknowledged corruption, years of coalition governments, and parties that have changed their political leanings over the years, voter turnout in India has remained between 55 and 60 percent for half a century, without the declines that most Western countries have experienced. Probably because I have parents from the world’s most populous democracy, I voted in my first federal election when I was 19. I have felt the powerful force of democracy most strongly when voting in federal and provincial elections.

Government, particularly at the federal and provincial levels, plays a major role in making our lives better or worse. I’m going out on a limb here: urban planners have long espoused the values of the local community. Many planners believe that it is only through local initiatives, community-led efforts, and intuitive knowledge of neighbourhoods can our cities become healthier, more environmentally conscious, and more economically robust. But here’s the thing: federal and provincial jurisdictions cover a lot of what happens in cities. We have a direct say in who is elected to federal government, something (lest we forget) citizens of other countries would love to have. And because of our parliamentary system, a vote for our local Member of Parliament contributes to federal leadership.

How does your MP affect what happens in your community? And how does voting in federal elections impact local issues? Let’s look at three issues: affordable housing, public transit, and immigration. All three are issues that cities large and small have struggled with for many years–and there’s only so much they can do on their own.

Affordable housing

Most municipal governments have acknowleged that their cities have high rents and low vacancy rates. They have limited or banned the conversion of rental housing to condominiums. They have started affordable housing funds. They have begun building smaller household types: condos, townhouses, granny flats. They have legalized secondary suites to help create lower-rent apartments. In short, cities have done just about everything they can to encourage the construction of affordable housing and protect what they do have. If you think this is just a big city problem, think again: even the City of Kelowna (with a population just over 100,000) has an affordable housing fund. The problem is so serious that in 2009, the United Nations declared that Canada had a housing crisis. But the federal government developed the National Housing Act, and it was changes to the federal Income Tax Act in 1972 that eliminated tax incentives for developing rental housing. In 1993, the feds (Liberals) delegated their authority over housing to the provinces and municipalities, but did not dedicate any funding. So cities remain in limbo while Bill C-304, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians, makes achingly slow progress through the House and the Senate (it’s been on the books in one form or another since 2004, and been re-introduced after each election and proroguing of Parliament). Bill C-304 could be a major breakthrough, if it ever becomes law: it will enable provinces and municipalities to work with the federal government to develop affordable housing programs that meet local needs. (And the best part, local readers: the bill was introduced by long-time Vancouver East MP Libby Davies (NDP).

Public transit

Municipalities and regions have the responsibility to provide public transportation, which is funded in part by the provincial and federal governments. Cities large and small operate public transit services across Canada, and many of them have experienced increases in ridership throughout the past 15 years. But there is no national transit act. This means that public transit organizations do not have a steady source of support for capital projects or operations. Their operating costs are partly covered by fees, local taxes, and other mechanisms, depending on the municipality. Capital costs require outside help: each time a city wants to build a new LRT line, expand its fleet of buses, or build some new stations along an existing line, it must apply to the provincial and federal governments for funding. Success depends on the identity and priorities of the provincial and federal Ministers of Transportation. In Vancouver, while TransLink strongly supported construction of the Evergreen Line (Coquitlam) and the UBC Line (Vancouver), then-Minister Kevin Falcon preferred the Canada Line (Vancouver-Richmond). Toronto Mayor Rob Ford just convinced Premier Dalton McGuinty to approve one future subway line instead of four LRT lines, after the City had spent years begging for money to fund transit improvements across the inner suburbs. The Regional Municipality of Waterloo just got provincial funding for an LRT line linking Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge. Public transit in Canadian municipalities was identified as a major issue early on in the federal election, and yet not a single federal leader has discussed it at this point. (Note: the Pembina Institute has info on how the parties stand on a variety of environmental issues, including transit). Meanwhile at the provincial level, the BC NDP leadership race has featured several arguments for better public transit (notably from candidates Adrian Dix and Mike Farnworth).

Immigration

Canadian cities grow substantially from immigration, and most municipalities welcome new immigrants, who contribute to their economic and social development. Immigrants rent housing in local neighbourhoods, find jobs locally, and enroll their children in local schools. In a country with low birth rates, immigration accounts for the majority of population growth. And while today’s immigrants are increasingly drawn to Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal, smaller cities like Kelowna and Cambridge accommodate substantial numbers of immigrants each year. But immigration is a federal mandate: the feds decide what types of immigrants enter the country (Skilled Workers, Temporary Workers, Assisted Relatives) and how many. Since the Conservatives have  been in power, Temporary Worker permits (for jobs as varied as Starbucks barista and oil sands worker) have risen steadily to the point where there are about a quarter million permits issued each year; on the other hand, the other categories have remained stagnant. Provinces also have a strong say, particularly through the Provincial Nominees program. Several notable partnerships between all three levels of government, such as the Canada-Ontario-Toronto Memorandum of Understanding, have helped fund and operate immigrant settlement programs, which cover a range of settlement issues like finding jobs, getting foreign credentials recognized through bridging programs, and learning English. These programs are operated by local non-profits and community organizations, but could not exist without federal and provincial support. Certain cities, like Fort McMurray, Alberta, have been seriously affected by changes in immigration policy (in their case, a high number of Temporary Workers settling in a city with high rents and a low rental vacancy rate).

Vote locally-federally

So even if you’re an “act local” type who thinks that community and municipal agendas are all that matter, it pays to vote provincially and federally. Cities can’t do everything, and the beauty of our system (one of the few advantages, really) is that you can vote locally for a federal result. Your MP has a local office where you can find out what they’ve done in your community (click here to find out what riding you’re in). Have they voted for or against initiatives that may have benefitted your neighbourhood, like settlement programs for new immigrants? What is your MP’s stance on key issues that you value, like public transit? (Click here to see how the federal parties measure up on major issues) Do you feel they represent the needs of your community (if you live in Fort McMurray, does your MP support more rights for Temporary Workers?) Does your MP go to community events and interact with local people? Who is running against your MP in the federal election? Do the other candidates make good points? With today’s technology, you can follow the candidates on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. The Globe and Mail, National Post, CTV, CBC, and your local newspapers all have lots of articles and information on your riding and your candidates (click here for the Georgia Straight‘s view on Vancouver candidates). Elections Canada has voting information in 27 languages and a web feature on youth voting. Don’t complain about lack of time: there’s no need to spend any more time or effort on this than you would spend checking out the latest videos on YouTube…unless you find the issues interesting.

Take a page from Rick Mercer’s book and spend 20 minutes “doing something young people all over the world are dying to do: vote”. All you need is two pieces of identification with your name and address on them: trust me, I’ve moved across the country and had to do this many, many times. Even a piece of mail (like a hydro bill) will do for the second piece of ID. Students, you can vote in the riding where you live by taking in ID to the polling station–it’s that easy. All your friends are doing it! (click here to see vote mobs from campuses across the country).

Don’t feel like your vote is “wasted”, because you never know what can happen. Hey, the first time I voted in a federal election, the Tories suffered a crushing defeat and we ended 9 long years of Mulroney–I mean Conservative rule. The first time I voted provincially, the unthinkable happened: the NDP was elected in Ontario. Even if you live in a federal riding where your party has no hope of winning (like me), your vote matters. In the 2004 federal election, in the Liberal bastion of Ottawa-Vanier, 5 percent of voters supported the Green Party. Although the Greens had no possible chance of winning, their low level of support across the country (4.3 percent) raised the party to federal status, giving it federal funding for future elections. There are always close calls in ridings: when the election was called this year, the Globe and Mail featured a list of 50 ridings to watch across Canada where it’s a tight race (Vancouver Quadra voters, cast your ballots; Liberal Joyce Murray only won by 150 votes back in 2006). Left-thinking young residents are changing traditionally conservative values in suburbs across the country. So regardless of where you live or your political stripe, your vote does matter. (That said, if all you want is to prevent a Harper majority, Project Democracy tells you which party is best positioned to defeat the Conservative in your riding.) If you care about what happens in your city, you need to vote in this year’s federal election.

Filipino immigrants are a rapidly growing group in many Canadian cities: there are almost half a million Filipinos in the country. In many ways, they are distinct: recent studies have highlighted their increasing dependence upon the Live-in Caregiver Program, their difficulties finding work in their occupations, and the implications of long periods of separation upon their families in Canada and the Philippines. Last year, the Vancouver Sun ran a four-part series on Filipinos in Canada, which they dubbed “The Filipino Factor”. This weekend the Globe and Mail featured a two-page spread, now that the Philippines outpaces China and India as the main source of immigrants to Canada. In my view, the distinctive patterns of Filipino immigrants make them an ideal case study that can teach us about immigrants’ integration, labour market participation and survival strategies.

As many of you know, my dissertation focuses on Filipinos’ housing and transportation choices in the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area (CMA), where over 170,000 Filipinos live. I’m rapidly nearing the end of my four years in the PhD programme at UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning, which means I’m finishing my study and getting ready to publish my results. I have found that Filipino immigrants display a remarkable resilience in their housing and transportation choices. It’s the same resilience that is portrayed in the media: Filipinos come from a country with far less economic and political stability than Canada, and they are willing to work hard to succeed here. They do experience significant barriers to their integration, if we’re talking about the labour market. But socially, they must be one of the most integrated groups in Canada: they are very spatially dispersed and do not form ethnic enclaves. They are also experts in community-building: Filipinos have established hundreds of non-profit, community, and advocacy groups in Canadian cities. These groups help new arrivals find jobs, train for new careers, and adjust to life in Canada; they are often staffed by both paid and volunteer Filipinos. Prominent Filipino researchers Dr. Nora Angeles and Dr. Aprodicio Laquian have done research in this area; Nora is currently an Associate Professor at SCARP and Prod is a Professor Emeritus at our school.

In my own research, I have seen that Filipinos’ lower homeownership rate and higher transit commuting rate can partially be explained by their flexibility: they make practical choices depending on access to transit and the location of their workplaces, their children’s schools, shops and services. They move back and forth between owning and renting, driving and transit use, depending on changes in their families and careers. These choices mirror their experiences in the Philippines, where many lived in dense, mixed-use communities with access to transit. Of course, their choices are also shaped by structural changes in housing policy, immigration policy, and the labour market over the years.

We can’t ignore the issues faced by growing number of Filipinos who work far below their education and skill levels, or the policy shifts that have made things more difficult for recent arrivals (Dr. Phil Kelly at York University has written extensively on this subject). In the 1990s and 2000s, immigration from the Philippines increased markedly, and many of these new immigrants entered under the LCP rather than Skilled Worker or Family Class immigration categories. It will take these more recent immigrants longer to find jobs in their professions than earlier immigrants, and during this time they work long hours and have difficulty studying for recertification; many have college diplomas or university degrees from the Philippines that Canadian employers and professional associations do not recognize. However, in the face of these changes in immigration policy and the labour market, Filipinos’ resiliency strategy serves them well. Because they remain flexible and mobile in their housing and transportation decisions, they are able to adapt to changing situations, like divorce, training for a new job, or offering a room to recently-arrived family members when they arrive in Canada.

Why all the fuss about Filipinos? After all, we’re a multicultural society…why focus on one particular group? Because Filipinos have higher than average rates of education and are fluent in English, but are not able to work in their professions, which means they often have lower than average incomes. For example, over the years, Filipinos’ jobs in finance, insurance and real estate have changed to jobs in manufacturing and the service sector. Filipinos seem to be more affected by changes in immigration policy, such as the LCP. Their resiliency strategy towards housing and transportation choice may be unique. For these reasons, a case study of Filipinos may be instructive to researchers studying immigrants’ housing, settlement, and labour market patterns.

This week, I’ll be presenting my work at the National Metropolis Conference here in Vancouver. I’m looking forward to seeing other researchers in urban planning, geography and sociology who are studying how immigrants settle into Canadian cities. Metropolis Canada is part of an international network of researchers on immigration and migration, and there is also an annual conference in Europe each year. The best part is the diversity of academic researchers, community researchers, non-profit housing providers, immigrant service providers, and of course students who come to the conference to share their research and best practices on immigrant integration. I’ll never forget my first Metropolis conference last year in Montréal…let’s hope Vancouver can be as much fun!

Bill Rankin's map of Chicago

A couple of years ago, when I attended the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning annual conference in Chicago, I was stunned to hear that Cleveland and Chicago are the most segregated cities in the US. As I’ve written before, Canadian cities simply don’t have these levels of segregation; obviously not for African American and Hispanic populations, but also not for other groups. Recently, I’ve come across a series of maps illustrating the difference between American cities that are more segregated vs. more integrated, thanks to some enlightened cartographers. It is very interesting to compare these maps to the (albeit simpler) maps of visible minorities in Canadian cities recently published by the Globe and Mail.

Bill Rankin‘s map of Chicago illustrates the sharp divides between white, black, Asian, Hispanic, and other ethnocultural groups. It was originally published in Perspecta, the journal of the Yale School of Architecture; Rankin is a PhD candidate in architecture and the history of science.

After seeing this, Eric Fischer produced similar maps for the 40 largest American cities. He used the same process as Rankin (one dot for every 25 people and same colour code, using the 2000 Census data).

We can see some segregation in New York City, but there are zones of integration.

Eric Fischer's map of New York City

Detroit’s 8-Mile district stands out as an example of entrenched segregation. Many of the maps of smaller cities, like Buffalo, Toledo, and Raleigh, highlight inner city concentrations of African Americans.

Eric Fischer’s map of Detroit

Eric Fischer's map of Los Angeles

On the other hand, check out Riverside, CA, which looks very integrated. Los Angeles also has a lot of integration, and San Antonio is very integrated.

Eric Fischer's map of Riverside

A couple of weeks ago, the Globe and Mail posted a series of “heat maps” showing the concentration of visible minorities in Canadian cities. They don’t break down the statistics (from the 2006 Census) into specific ethnocultural groups, as is the usual Canadian trend; there are simply too many groups to map. But they are interesting nonetheless. The maps are interactive, allowing you to zoom in, so I can’t reproduce them here. Check them out at www.globeandmail.ca under Multiculturalism.

Vancouver’s map shows that in most census tracts in Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond and Surrey, over 30% of the population are visible minorities. Toronto has a similar pattern: over 30% of the population in Toronto, Brampton, Mississauga, Richmond, and Ajax are visible minorities. The central Toronto map shows some interesting areas of lower concentration: areas around the subway lines, west Toronto and the Beaches. In Calgary, Winnipeg and Ottawa, the census tracts with over 30% visible minorities are mainly in the suburbs.

Montréal is even more fascinating because it shows a very different pattern. The visible minority population there is almost exclusively concentrated on the island of Montréal, with lower rates of concentration in the suburbs: the older pattern of immigrant settlement that we still see in smaller cities. This is likely due to sheer numbers: Toronto and Vancouver receive tens of thousands more immigrants each year than Montréal.

Obviously, the American maps show that not all cities south of the border are sharply segregated, but even in the smaller cities, like Toledo, Ohio, there are lingering segregated African American populations. This in itself is not an issue; the maps of Canadian cities show lots of neighbourhoods with high concentrations of visible minorities. The real issue is when these concentrations are due to poverty or discrimination (either societal or institutional, such as in the housing market). American housing research seems to indicate that much of the segregation is in fact due to these two factors. Entire programs are devoted to fixing this problem: Housing Choice Vouchers, for example, aim to remove people from entrenched areas of poverty into neighbourhoods where they may have better educational and job opportunities.

I think these maps illustrate again how different Canadian and American cities are in terms of ethnocultural groups: both in terms of their composition and their spatial dispersal. This continues to create policy differences between the US and Canada, not only in my own research areas of housing, transportation, and immigration, but in many other areas affecting municipalities: welfare provision, health care, and education to name a few.