A committee is studying ways to recognize and engage Saanich’s multicultural communities. (Black Press File).

Saanich to improve multicultural services

Saanich plans to better recognize and engage Saanich’s multicultural communities.

Coun. Colin Plant, chair of the Healthy Saanich Advisory Committee, said a working group is currently exploring measures. While it is not clear yet what form those measures might take, discussions so far point towards ways to celebrate the various cultures that make up Saanich and encourage cultural diversity, as well as participation in civic affairs.

One of the purposes of the committee is to “promote effective communication, engagement and collaboration between the [municipality] and its citizens” and its terms of references call on the committee to “foster public awareness, recognition and support for multiculturalism and special events.”

According to the latest census figures, about 22 per cent of Saanich residents qualify as immigrants, and experts predict that their numbers will rise. According to Statistics Canada, immigrants will account for all of Canada’s net population growth.

About 250,000 permanent residents settle in Canada every year, and 85 per cent choose to become Canadian citizens, the highest naturalization rate in the world, according to Ballots and Belonging, a 2015 report prepared by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship. Immigrants, the report says, are transforming Canadian cities, large and small, including their politics.

“Newcomers arrive with different experiences in politics,” it reads. “Some are very familiar with a democratic system like Canada’s. Some were politically engaged before emigrating. Others never had the opportunity to vote in a system that offers real choice. Others connect electoral politics and politicians with deeply corrupt, ineffective regimes.”

While the committee has not yet formalized its direction for 2018, its members have already received several presentations from Saanich staff, as well as third parties, on the subject of multiculturalism.

They included a presentation from Dave Lau, executive director of the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre (VIRCS). He said that municipal government has a part to play in the settlement and integration of newcomers, a point echoed in the literature.

While Ottawa and the provinces share jurisdiction over the immigration process into Canada, municipal governments bear the day-to-day burden of settling and integrating newcomers, often without specific financial support towards said end.

“Municipalities – the front-line, first responders for many immigrant needs – were given no formal role in developing federal policies and programs,” reads a 2011 report by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities titled Starting on Solid Ground: The Municipal Role in Immigrant Settlement. “Municipalities big and small are looking for new ways to attract, retain and integrate newcomers, but they lack the revenue tools necessary to pay the growing costs associated with this important job.”

Recent years have seen municipal governments across the province including Saanich become more responsive and mindful of various barriers facing immigrants as they access municipal services. For example, immigrants accessing municipal services in Saanich through its website can access a translate function.

Saanich also makes swimming lessons available in Chinese and Punjabi and Leisure Involvement for Everyone (LIFE) — a program subsidizing recreational and cultural programming for eligible residents – is available in Chinese.

Saanich has also developed a partnership with VIRCS and organizes a variety of programs. But the coming direction of the committee suggests more programs could be on their way.

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