Toronto became the first non-European city to sign our Integrating Cities Charter in December 2014. Here, we speak to Councillor James Pasternak of Toronto City Council about the city's motivations for signing and how it expects to benefit.
Toronto is the first non European signatory of the charter. How did this come to the attention of the City of Toronto?
We are thrilled to have opened that door for other North American and non-European cities around the world to join in the conversation about how to strengthen our commitment to newcomers and do a better job in facilitating their integration.
For the past two years, one of the significant drivers of change in our city in terms of newcomer and immigrant issues has been committing ourselves to their full integration through the Toronto's Newcomer Leadership Table. The City co-leads this Table consisting of representatives from Canada’s three orders of government (municipal, provincial, and federal), community agencies, school boards, health and other sectors. It creates a unique opportunity for this multi-sector, multi-level direct dialogue on immigration issues. One of the members brought the Integrating Cities Charter and its approach to the Table. City staff explored it and brought it to Toronto City Council for enthusiastic approval.
What are the biggest challenges your city faces in terms of migrant integration?
Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world, with over half of its residents born outside of Canada and coming from 188 countries worldwide. Almost 500,000 people who live in our city are recent immigrants. While Toronto has a long history of welcoming newcomers, there are some recent trends that are concerning and require our urgent attention. For example, the composition of our immigrant population has changed. Temporary residents arrive in greater numbers rather than permanent. This is a significant shift, as permanent residents integrate faster and more successfully and have a clear pathway to citizenship. Also, many of our newcomers face challenges finding adequate employment and affordable housing, and have difficulty accessing City and other services. At the same time, we are faced with multiple budget pressures and competing demands for services and supports.
The successful integration of newcomers has a significant impact on the prosperity of our city. We look forward to learning from your initiatives and sharing our best practices, so that we ensure the best outcomes for everyone - our cities and all our residents, including newcomers.
What types of initiatives will you take as a signatory?
Through Toronto’s Newcomer Strategy, we have a number of actions under way. Being a signatory to the Charter, however, creates the opportunity for us to review how we are doing as a policy maker, provider of services, as an employer and buyer of goods and services, and how we can have greater impact.
Now, it makes us a formal partner of a committed community of cities. Toronto will listen, learn and act. We will be looking at your work related to performance measures and how we can be directly involved in developing leading indicators. We are also interested in being engaged in the "implementoring" program to both learn and share best practices, and to look for those successful initiatives that we can adapt to Toronto.
Do you think it is important for cities to exchange on migrant integration policies and practices?
Yes, it is important that best practices are evidence-based and have social impact. Given the complexities of the issues around integration and settlement of newcomers in cities, collaboration and learning will help all of us improve our approaches and determine where we may have common policy agendas. I’m committed to Toronto building on excellence in helping immigrants integrate and feel at home faster, while enhancing our ability to influence other orders of government in shaping immigration-policy.