Immigration not a city jurisdiction
No assigned money for immigrants and cultural communities
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 2 avril 2009
“One of the biggest issues they face is finding employment, and education, which are provincial jurisdictions,” said Gilles Bergeron, director of Culture, Sports, Leisure and Social Development for the borough of Côte-des-NeigesNotre-Dame-de-Grâce.
“We get money for social development ‘at large’,” he explained.
This reality seems disconnected from the findings of the latest report by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities on the quality of life in cities, which concluded that municipalities are underfunded even though they have to deal with the special needs of newly-arrived immigrants and refugees. According to the report, municipalities must provide affordable housing and social aid because newcomers often face unemployment and poverty.
In a neighbourhood as ethnically diverse as CDN, where one person out of three is a member of a cultural community, Bergeron said that every initiative from the borough inevitably reaches the various cultural communities.
But when it comes to money, there is no special envelope strictly destined to cultural communities or the needs of immigrants.
The borough’s approach to social development has been to help new community organizations set up shop by financing projects for a period of about three years in the hopes that they’ll stand on their own feet by the end of that period. In 2008, the allotted budget was $250,000.
“That’s money from the borough that we can use to finance certain community projects that may cater to different cultural communities,” said Bergeron.
In order to qualify for this money, community groups must submit a well-defined project with a beginning and an end, and it can’t be a recurring project from year to year. Under the circumstances, some projects end up suffering from their own success.
“We try to modify elements in the project in order to justify the financing, but we can’t do that forever,” explained Bergeron.
“You have to see it as a pie, and the pie doesn’t get any bigger.”
The idea is to keep the wheel turning and ensure that new and interesting projects also get a shot.
“What do we do? Finance the same four or five projects for the next 10 years and close the door to everyone else and say no?” he asked.
“That’s the dilemma. Obviously if there were more money every year, we could rethink things, but there isn’t more so we make with what we have,” he said.
The organizations housed in the cultural centre located at 6767 Côte-des-Neiges Road receive a discount on rent from the borough to help them carry out their mandates.
In 2008, the city of Montreal received $1.5 million from the Ministry of Immigration and Cultural Communities of Quebec. Bergeron said that the city managed $300,000 of that and handed it out to support various community initiatives and events organized by cultural communities, like parades, national celebrations, etc. The rest of the money was shared among the 19 boroughs, with CDN-NDG receiving $29,250.
“It’s little, very little,” said Bergeron.
“In this context we go see the different community organizations that have projects going on and we hand out the money, but it’s not significant. We can’t do much. It’s often existing projects and that’s how we contribute.”
The government of Quebec gives additional funding through the city contract, an action plan to fight poverty and exclusion for which the borough received $329,642 last year.
At the end of the day, the various cultural communities in Côte-des-Neiges coexist without any obvious frictions, but perfect integration is still far off. Bergeron acknowledged that making Chinese people and Russian people play bingo together doesn’t mean that they’ll come out of the experience holding hands and singing Kumbaya.
Bergeron is used to having people descend on his office almost by reflex whenever cultural communities become a topical issue.
“They ask questions about what we do, but what’s funny is that we don’t do anything in particular,” he said.
“We fulfill our city mandate with the clientele that we have, and somehow it works out.”
[ Iuliana Petrescu ]