Saad El Hakmi
Canada supports immigration continuously and perceives immigrants as a valuable source of social and economic capital. Newcomers arrive in Canada with the expectations to improve their lives, whether personally or professionally. However, they encounter social exclusion and systemic barriers that compromise their integration in host communities. In fact, several research studies claim that despite Canada’s strong commitment to inclusive policies, there is low participation of immigrants in civic and democratic life. Civic engagement is the ultimate stage of integration and occurs only through an inclusion of newcomers in social and political life. Nevertheless, newcomers often experience social exclusion during their process of settlement and integration in Canada. Hence, it is imperative to report newcomers’ concerns and policy issues around integration.
Frontline community organizations play an important role in advocating for the successful settlement and integration of newcomers in Canada. Known as the “third” sector, they operate under funding-based agreements with federal and provincial governments to provide essential settlement services to newcomers including – language training, housing, employment, and healthcare. Despite the vital role they play– these organizations lack resources to engage in policy-oriented advocacy and promote newcomers’ social inclusion. To help mitigate this challenge, New Public Governance- a public administration management tool- can incite the third sector to be active in the policy process. It aims to engage the third sector in identifying issues on the policy agenda, participate in policy development through research and analysis and, advance policy solutions. Thus, agencies can play an essential role in aiding immigrants’ integration in the civic and democratic life in Canada through advocating for inclusive integration policies.
The relationship between government and the third sector rests upon structural and political aspects. Structures shape the nature of the relationship while politics allow non-governmental actors to participate in the policy process. Until the mid-1990s, the third sector in Canada benefited from the strong support of the federal government on a financial and institutional basis. The third sector’s duties comprised many elements, such as service delivery, administration, policy advocacy, and regulation. Sponsored by the government, agencies run settlement programs to meet immigrants’ needs in the short and long term. On the one hand, newcomers received immediate support to navigate the first stages of their settlement. On the other hand, the federal government created strategies to assist organizations in developing their policy and research capacity to ensure smooth integration of newcomers in Canada. In the mid-1990s, the government adopted neoliberal contracting rules that decreased the funding for non-governmental advocacy agencies and shifted partnership to a controlled relationship based on the power of the funder. As such, contracting became competitive, short term, regulated, and inadequately distributed. Consequently, community-based settlement services lost their capacity to promote civic and democratic participation of newcomers and their role became limited to essential services such as employment, language, and housing.
Although issues affecting vulnerable communities are often at the centre of political and policy discussions, newcomers themselves are often excluded from platforms that are inclusive of their perspectives with respect to participatory democracy and civic engagement. Opinions of newcomers and non-governmental agencies matter more if they are integrated into decision-making processes. The absence of strategies to guarantee an adequate integration of newcomers in their country of settlement provokes social isolation, marginalization, and exclusion of such groups from the democratic and civic spectrum. Successful integration of newcomers means their rapid and smooth contribution to not only the social, cultural, and economic but also political and civic life in Canada. In fact, the assessment of existing integration policies rests upon the degree to which newcomers interact with institutions, communities, and individuals. It is crucial for settlement policies to promote immigrants’ integration through active civic and democratic engagement that leads to their well-being.
As such, advocating for policy change is an essential feature of the role non-governmental agencies play, allowing them to raise concerns of the communities they serve, report social and economic disparities, and contribute to improved rates of civic engagement. Under the New Public Governance scope, public authorities negotiate and collaborate with public and private actors, allowing governments to form complex networks, relationships, and relational agreements. The New Public Governance approach is an opportunity for larger non-governmental actors to engage with the state in order to shape public policy further contributing to active participation and collaboration. This can take the form of public authorities inviting non-governmental agencies to create policy objectives and design tools to address critical policy issues. New Public Governance includes the third sector as an active contributor in the policy process as well as processes of research and analysis relating to policy.
Newcomers settle in Canada with the hope of improving their living conditions but also to be part of a larger society. Despite multiculturalism policies that promote social inclusion, immigrants encounter social and economic barriers that exclude them from civic and democratic participation. Frontline community-based agencies respond to immigrants’ immediate needs, such as language training, housing, employment, and healthcare referrals. However, the New Public Management model and neoliberal reforms have limited the capacity of agencies to deliver essential services. New Public Governance offers a new route for settlement agencies to be reintegrated into the policymaking process and raise awareness about newcomers’ concerns.
*The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors