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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Another economic council?

There was an item on the agenda of the Finance and Administration Committee last week that piqued my curiosity.

Item 9 consisted of a request from Ward 14 Councillor Sandy White that council establish “a Multi-Cultural Economic Council” and that someone from the city administration “assist the London Multi-Cultural Committee in preparing Terms of Reference related to this new initiative.” The letter goes on to suggest that “[t]he Terms of Reference should consider linkages to the Mayor’s Economic Council; sources of finance and required staff resources.” It concludes with the assurance that “We will be available to speak to this issue, as well as answer any questions.”

I was interested to find out who the “we” were and, indeed, what the “London Multi-Cultural Committee”is. Unfortunately, the answers to those questions were not forthcoming.

In fact, Councillor White herself was not present; instead, the agenda item was presented by Ward 3 Councillor Joe Swan who described himself as pinch-hitting for White. The purpose of the request, he explained, was to engage the multi-cultural community in wealth creation in the city. Many immigrants are very entrepreneurial, he suggested, and have excellent contacts for import/export businesses which may provide important opportunities for them and for the city. It was his perception that members of the multi-cultural community need to align with other groups rather than form a separate group, although of course he would not want to see duplication of the work that is already being done by the London and Middlesex Local Immigration Partnership (LMLIP).

Apparently, there was a delegation waiting in the wings to speak to this issue and the Mayor invited them to come forward. This too was unusual. Normally, groups and individuals apply to have delegate status and the delegations are prominently noted on the agenda.

First to speak was Jack Malkin. He began by assuring the committee that he did not want to step on any toes given some overlapping jurisdictions. He then pointed out that immigrants are not lacking in entrepreneurial spirit but frequently do not have the resources to put ideas into action. This was interesting since Malkin’s profile on LinkedIn lists him as a manager for Shmuel Farhi, hardly someone lacking in resources or connections.

Next up was Dr. Antonio Belda, representing CALA, the Canadian Latin American Association. He spoke of the benefits of settlement assistance to immigrants that had been provided by that organization through volunteer services and seminars. He too noted the limited resources available to provide these services.

The last person to present was Denise Edwards Taylor, a teacher with the Thames Valley District School Board. She suggested that discussions around this issue had evolved out of the organizing of the Haiti Relief Concert held more than a year ago at Centennial Hall. Ms Taylor is also a member of the London & Middlesex Local Immigration Partnership Education Sub-Committee.

It was unclear to me what was being requested. Councillor White’s communication asked for a structure (a council) and resources (staff and money). But to what end? What would the council do? And just what is the London Multi-Cultural Committee? Whom does it represent? Who are the members?

Some of the FAC members seemed to share my bewilderment. Councillor Paul Hubert described himself as “struggling to see how this will integrate” with existing programs. He wondered what kind of “support” Councillor White was seeking. What would be the “finances and required staff resources”? Councillor Harold Usher put it more bluntly: “What is being proposed?” he asked. “Who is this Multi-Cultural Committee?”

General Manager Ross Fair noted that much of this work was being done through a number of organizations with which the city is closely involved.

Chief among these is the LMLIP which is jointly led by the City of London and the United Way. Its mandate is to strengthen the role of local and regional communities in serving and integrating immigrants. The initiative is 100% funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC); the current contract goes until March 31, 2012 and there is reason to believe that funding will be extended beyond that date. About 400 members of the community, as individuals and representative of various groups and organizations, participate in this initiative.

In fact, Cindy Howard, Director of Social and Community Support Services, had given a very comprehensive update on the progress of the LMLIP only the previous evening to the Community and Neighbourhoods Committee. Surely, if there were concerns about deficiencies in the services provided, they should have been raised there.

In addition to this, the London Economic Development Council (LEDC) is very much involved with facilitating the recognition of foreign credentials and developing and employment strategy for immigrants.

Mr. Fair indicated that he would be happy to have the matter referred to him to ensure that all the bases were being covered, particularly on the entrepreneurship front.

Despite the reservations of half the committee, (Councillor Henderson was absent), all agreed that the matter, supported in principle, should be referred to staff (i.e. Mr. Fair) for a report back on some unanswered questions.

I look forward to seeing it.

1 comment:

Chris D. said...

Zero percent or not? This Councillor seems to consistently vote in favour of zero percent and then proposes ideas that duplicate services and come with a price tag, but no plan on how to pay for them. Pick a strategy Councillor White. Zero cannot be achieved by adding costs.