New Canadian Media


Saturday, 17 March 2018 01:36

Niche Businesses in Smaller Cities

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By Florence Hwang

Starting a business can be hard. Startup capital, asset management, and just attracting customers; are all obstacles new small businesses must learn to overcome on the fly. But these challenges can be amplified for female immigrants, most especially for those in rural areas that are not accustomed to working with diverse populations.

“It’s a constant battle with people questioning your qualifications because of your background and overlook[ing] your business,” says Tia Luangomba. A small business owner, who immigrated from the Republic of Congo almost 10 years ago. She has worked diligently to build a strong reputation. 

“I realize that people fear what they don’t know [so] I let my work and talent speak for me. If you are confident in your work and your talent, people will trust you and the outcome will be a satisfied customer,” she continues. 

When Luangomba first moved to Niagara Falls, she had trouble finding salons that could do her hair. This would then force her to trek out to either Toronto or St. Catharines in her various searches. Identifying a glaring need within her community, she decided to become a licensed hairdresser. 

In 2012, she came out with her own salon, Hair by Tia Nicole. Beginning as a multicultural hairstylist, in a relatively new country, she didn’t have much support. In need of additional guidance she began a course in business application from the Women’s Entrepreneur Development Program. 

“I needed help with the business aspect of things, where to register, how to start, where to build a business, demographics and other important aspect[s] of starting a business,” she admits. 

The program has helped her with social media advertisements, gaining clients, adjusting financial strategies and understanding different legal aspects including taxes and name registration. But it has also benefited her in a variety of other ways as well. 

“Since the course I have a lot more confidence in how I am running my business,” she says, stating that she would have not been able to start her own business in Congo. 

“In my country there is no resources available for one to get help to start a business on their own and with war raging every day and violence, poverty and hunger level rising.  No one has time to even try. Here in Canada there are so much resources, help and places like [the] multicultural center available for anyone who is will[ing] to seek help, work hard enough and achieve their dream,” she says. 

In her own salon, she takes comfort in the effect she has on those around her. “Knowing that I not only have an impact in my clients’ appearance but their confidence makes it all worth it,” she concludes. 

Catering to the Caribbean community

Luangomba’s experiences with a lack of offerings for her individual needs, are one that is all to well known for many immigrants. With Naomie Cesar, it was beauty products for her hair, which she had trouble purchasing.

“Lot of newcomers all of us have the same problem,” says Cesar who originally came from Haiti. 

Like Luangomba, Cesar applied and was accepted into the Women’s Entrepreneur Development Program. 

Following completion, she purchased beauty supplies from Toronto and went to local multicultural centres, churches and other places newcomers gathered. But she soon realized customers were not just looking for hair products, they were also looking for other things from their homelands – food. Realizing the demand in the area, she opened a shop in downtown Welland called CaribAfrica Specialty Store.

Soon, she was selling Caribbean staples such as okra and cornmeal before eventually moving to full on dinners. A jack of all trades, she now sells food products as well as makeup and hair products. 

“In the afternoon I make chicken roti. I also make rice and beans, oxtail, soups. Different meals. I explain to them how to cook it at home. It keeps me busy,” says Cesar, referring to her two children. 

But her heart wasn’t always set on entrepreneurship. With previous training as a nurse, she looked at bridging courses upon arrival in Canada, before settling on specialization in foot care. Prioritizing a work-life balance, she looked for alternatives to the scheduling requirements of nursing. 

“I love to be independent, meet other people, be inspired, get inspired. I enjoy it. Get to spend time with my kids. The most special time is to have time with kids and be able to do other things. I get to do other things like missionary work. I get to do those things instead of being somewhere [to] just work,” she says. 

Providing Welland with ethnic alternatives that were previously missed, its clear there are many in the community that are happy with her decision. 

Entrepreneurial Development

Lori Webster is the coordinator of the Women’s Entrepreneur Development Program and has worked with the organization for the past five years. Meeting with a variety of immigrant women, she identifies language as one of the biggest barriers for those looking to learn about the Canadian marketplace. 

“We have seen women start businesses in graphic design, commercial cleaning, hair styling, ethnic food store[s], imported products, online grocery delivery, jewelry-making, seamstress, holistic health care, and pet grooming, for example,” says Webster. 

When the program began in 2013, it was originally set up as a two-year pilot project for six programs across Ontario. However, it continues to receive funding almost three years after the initial two-year pilot project. Helping educate immigrant women about the regulations and legal requirements of starting a business in Canada.

Over the years, a total of 102 women have completed the program. And of those, 56 have gone on to start their own businesses within 12 months of graduation.

Although the true success of these start-ups cannot be accurately measured until more time has elapsed, if the 2013 program is any indication, they should continue to thrive. Of the 23 net new businesses started since that initial program, 20 are still in operation.

Coordinators of the project hope to further the progress they’ve made and await a funding decision that could extend it for at least another 3 years.

This piece is part of the "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontario" series.

Sunday, 25 February 2018 11:20

Women Entrepreneurs Step Up

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By: Margaret P. Bonikowska in Toronto

Women from virtually every continent arrive in Canada every day, but few go on to set up their own businesses or other enterprises. As part of our ongoing Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontario’s Immigration Story series, we profile the entrepreneurial journeys of three women from different continents – Asia, Europe and AfricaSandra Awuku, Maggie Habieda and Shirley Wu share their stories and keys to success. 

Overcoming Barriers

Shirley Wu is Chinese, of Hakka descent, and lived in Pakistan until the age of 24. She came to Canada in 1991 with extensive experience in the beauty industry. Multilingual (in Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Chinese, and English) and familiar with the Indian and Pakistani communities, she became a sought-after makeup expert. Now her booming Beauty Concept Salon in Mississauga employs twelve, including several freelance makeup artists and hairstylists. They work on weddings, cultural events and film shoots. Shirley also collaborates with accomplished photographers and popular magazines. “There are some who schedule weddings based on my availability”, laughs Shirley. She also gives back to the community by organizing workshops for aspiring makeup artists, teaching beauty skills and how to start a successful business.

Shirley cannot overemphasize the importance of asking questions, talking to those who are experienced, being positive, and ensuring high quality of one’s work. “Be grateful, work from your heart, keep healthy to have the necessary energy, invest in yourself to give to others, and stay positive and happy.”

Immigrant women are more likely than their Canadian-born counterparts to have completed a college degree, though some must first overcome a language barrier and deal with re-certification regulations. Then they face a difficult choice: find a job or create one. Even though the vast majority (90 percent among those 15 and older) are wage earners, some choose the riskier but also potentially more rewarding path of self-employment. In fact, this option is becoming increasingly attractive to immigrant women.

You’re not alone- there is a wealth of resources available from government agencies, libraries, business organizations. Many associations, some aimed specifically at immigrant women, welcome new members, offer networking opportunities and resources. It is in our society’s interest for immigrants to be well integrated, successful, and professionally active. Canadians are open and ready to share their experience.

Building a Reputation

Sandra Awuku immigrated from Ghana at age 19, went back to high school, graduated from Queen’s University and entered the corporate world. She developed her business, management and leadership skills and was quickly promoted in her jobs. She took a risk and gave up her safe salary, wanting to make a difference in her community. Driven by a unique idea for her company, House of Teams. Aimed at promoting team-building, she designs customized events outside the work environment. House of Teams also supports those in need: on March 10th it is sponsoring the Artists Expression for Autism show in Collingwood.

For Sandra it is all about the impact you make on the community. “Know your market, keep working on your brand and your reputation, understand your goals and your clients”, she advises. Build a network and take advantage of all available sources of support. Having a mentor is invaluable. Be prepared for long hours, but when all goes well, one’s sense of satisfaction is enormous and well worth the effort.

Canada’s unique cultural mosaic comprises over 200 ethnic groups, with over one-fifth of Canadians born abroad. The immigrant share of the country’s labour force, currently at nearly one-quarter of the population—and one-half in Toronto—continues to grow.

None of these women reported any direct experiences with prejudice and discrimination. Being from elsewhere may indeed be an asset. Immigrant women bring ideas and experiences that may be less known here but are willingly embraced. And Canada offers opportunities unavailable “back home”.

Fulfilling a dream

Maggie Habieda immigrated from Poland when she was 16. She was accepted into an art high school, graduated with flying colours and pursued studies at Toronto’s prestigious OCAD University. In addition to illustration and design, she learned photography, which became her passion. She began photographing weddings, primarily for Indian customers and soon became a highly regarded photographer in that community. Four years later she opened a high-end studio “Fotografia Boutique” in Oakville. She now photographs celebrities and makes “timeless portraits” of individuals and families, creating exquisite albums. Her former college professor has become her studio manager, part of a large support team. Maggie’s work has earned numerous awards. She is also dedicated to community involvement by organizing seminars and multicultural concerts.

For Maggie, it was always about fulfilling her dream to be an artist and capture beauty. “Don’t believe when they say you won’t succeed. Persevere,” she advises. When one bank turned her down, she went elsewhere to get her business loan. “Then I hit the library,” devouring materials about business. And she asked questions to pick other people’s brains. Her way has always been to maintain a wide range of contacts – she attends events, meets people, forms friendships and partnerships. “I started from scratch. When you don’t have money, you need to be smart.” One way to find support is to join business groups, like the Oakville Chamber of Commerce.

Women’s labour force participation is also increasing, having risen from 41 percent in 1991 to 48 percent in 2016. In Canada’s major urban centers, nearly 50 percent of the female population are immigrants. 57 percent of them are employed (77 percent among those between 25 and 54 years of age).

Of course, challenges persist. Canada still has one of the largest gender pay gaps in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), but the government is increasingly recognizing this problem and taking active steps to address it. Considering plans to significantly increase annual immigration levels, the number of immigrant women entering the workforce will continue to grow in the coming years. Many will continue to be at the vanguard of innovation and business development, leading the way for other entrepreneurs of all backgrounds. It is essential that our society continues to encourage their initiative and creativity.

This piece is part of the "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontario" series. Writers interested in participating are encouraged to join the NCM Collective for an opportunity. 

Tuesday, 13 February 2018 10:07

Lost in the Wasteland of Survival Jobs

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By: Nanyi Albuero in Toronto, ON

The rhythmic sound of embroidering machines surround Mariam Said Mobinullah as she expertly navigates her way around a sea of powerful equipment. She reaches for the box of buttons, clasps and hooks; attaching them to various garments in one fell swoop. With movements that have become all but muscle memory, she wastes no time stitching initials onto the assortment of robe bags. There are targets to be met.

However, in the midst of another eight-hour shift which pays minimum wage with no benefits, Mariam reflects on her disappointment. She admits this was not how she envisioned life in her adopted country. As a hand sewer in a tailoring factory in Toronto, her days now involve working with varieties of gowns, coats, shirts, pants and scarves. A far cry from her days as a teacher back in Kabul.

Looking to escape war-torn Afghanistan, Mobinullah moved to Canada with her family over five years ago. Her hope lies “in the good dreams I have for my children’s future” as the silver lining to her struggles.

She is not alone in finding difficulty as a new Canadian. The road to an immigrant realizing the “Canadian Dream” is fraught with roadblocks about one’s qualifications and whether employers will recognize them. Highly skilled professionals with university degrees in their native countries are often relegated to survival jobs and paid a minimum wage with no job stability in sight. Hence the stories about doctors driving cabs or engineers as security guards or delivering pizzas. And with that low income demographic comes the term “working poor”.

Is the initial difficulty experienced by new Canadians in finding a job in their line of work a rite of passage?

Deena Ladd, Coordinator at the Workers’ Action Centre in Toronto, reflects on this conundrum: “It’s no surprise.  So many people’s qualifications are not accepted coming into this country. Research studies have shown that getting these qualifications recognised and getting the equivalency of these qualifications is just insurmountable for so many people."

Ladd further observed that it can even be tough for newcomers who choose to go back to school because “how do you go back to school if you have to pay your bills?”

No Canadian Experience

This was the dilemma Mayurika Trivedi found herself in when she arrived in Canada from India in 1997. She proudly says “I’m not a newcomer. I came to Canada with my two sons.” However, her accounting and business administration degree did not land her a professional job but instead she started as a machine operator in a factory.

She was also subjected to that dreaded mantra: No Canadian experience.  Frustrated by the lack of information for new arrivals and not enough training resources, she had no choice but to work the night shift in an automotive factory. Later on she was transferred to the day shift.

Mayurika was forced to leave her job in 2010 when her husband fell ill. In spite of the hardships she is not giving up and plans on going back to school “to upgrade my education and help me in my career”. She hopes to one day be financially independent so she is able to fulfill her dreams.

Heartbreaking, as is the plight of 1.5 million women in Canada living on a low income. This is a fact of life which Mariam Said Mobinullah and Mayurika Trevidi face in a G7 nation.

While some immigrants have given up on the “Canadian Dream” and returned to their home countries, that option simply does not exist for many. Moving away from places that do not offer the same liberties or securities, a trip back could prove costly in the long run.

It can still be an uphill climb for many professional women who arrive in Canada fleeing war or persecution. There can be subtle yet systemic racism based on the colour of one’s skin, a foreign-sounding name or accent.

It is distressing that 28 per cent of visible minority women live in poverty; almost 70 per cent of part-time workers are women and 60 per cent of minimum-wage earners are female, according to the Canadian Women's Foundation. 

Dr. Izumi Sakamoto, of the University of Toronto, points to employers who knowingly or unknowingly are discriminating against immigrants by prioritizing "Canadian experience" over credentials that may have been obtained abroad. "When they show up to job interviews, they're told they don't have Canadian experience and can't be hired. Somehow your experience is inferior to that of a Canadian," she explained during an interview on CBC Radio's Metro Morning.

In 2013, the Ontario Human Rights Commission ruled the question of "Canadian experience", a violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code. However, as new Canadians continue to face this obstacle, it's clear that a more practical solution must be implemented. Sakamoto calls for more awareness as Canada looks to open its doors to more skilled immigrants. That it has become a code violation is good news, but remains small comfort for the thousands in Ontario mired in survival and precarious jobs. 

This piece is part of the "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontario" series. Writers interested in participating are encouraged to join the NCM Collective for an opportunity.

Thursday, 08 February 2018 19:49

Minimum Wage: Headstart for Newcomer Women

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By: Summer Fanous in Toronto, ON

Prabhjeet Kaur was among the first victims of the rise in minimum wages in Ontario at the beginning of the year. She lost her restaurant job while the rest of the province idly debated the pros and cons of higher starting wages.

Immigrating to Canada with her family to pursue her education goals, Kaur admits she is somewhat shielded from real world expenses. She explains, “students don’t know what’s going on [at] a high level. They are giving and taking in the same way.”

Since then she has been able to find work with Walmart as a picker/driver for a little over minimum wage, but is firm in her belief that any benefits are overshadowed by increases in other expenses. 

The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017  legislation has increased the minimum wage in Ontario from $11.60 per hour to $14 per hour, effective January 1, 2018 and will be bumped up to $15 per hour at the same time next year. According to Bill 148, “It will be mandatory for employers to pay: casual, part-time, temporary and seasonal employees, who are doing substantially the same work as full-time/permanent employees, the same rate of pay as full-time/permanent employees."

The wage increase is especially important for single income earners and women with families to provide for. Based on a timeline produced by the Vanier Institute of the Family, two-thirds (66%) of part-time workers are women, a proportion that has not changed significantly over the past three decades. While the raise seems to offer an answer to many of the questions surrounding the Ontario workforce, the solution may not be as simple as it sounds.

Shaemin Ukani came to Canada from London in 1974, today she is the Director of Operations at Arrow Professionals, a company she co-founded over 10 years ago. As an employer, she realizes that the wage increase means the biggest expense on her books becomes staff salaries. She believes business owners will have a harder time balancing their budgets, and in turn, will hire fewer people or take on more work themselves.

Similarly, new graduates or less experienced workers may be shafted since more experienced workers who are on the hunt for a job could be hired to make the same, higher minimum wage. Other disadvantages to employers of the minimum wage increase include “staff reduction, overtime reduction, job elimination, automation, and benefit cuts,” according to Ukani. The cost of living will also rise to accommodate the wage increase, so gas, household items and groceries will go proportionately to make up the difference.

As employers take steps to protect their own profit margins, many minimum wage employees are seeing cuts in hours as well as available positions. 

Equal work, equal pay

However not everyone shares negative views about the policy change. Ronia Bellotti immigrated to Canada from Jerusalem in 1986 for a “better life.” Beginning minimum wage jobs as early as the age of 13, she has climbed the ranks to her current position as Superior Court Registrar for the Ministry of the Attorney General. While she worries about how small business owners would cope with having to pay employees more, Bellotti believes the wage increase, especially for immigrant women, is a “positive step forward.”

“Immigrants, single moms or minorities would highly benefit from a wage increase in their everyday life.  This may be especially beneficial to working families, as then both mothers and fathers would see a pay raise benefiting the family unit. I do think women make up a large portion of the minimum wage sector, while historically, men have received higher incomes for the same job women do,” Bellotti feels.

Data from 2005 seems to confirm this. Immigrant women of all ages were more likely to be living in a low-income situation than Canadian-born women. Among the immigrant girls and women in an economic family, 20 per cent lived under Statistics Canada's low income cut-off before tax, compared with 10 per cent of the Canadian-born girls and women. The incidence of low income among immigrant girls and women was also somewhat higher than among their male peers (19 per cent).

Fleeing an unsafe town in Pakistan, Huda Alvi and her family immigrated to Canada in the hopes of finding better career opportunities. Her career has evolved from starting her own recruitment company at age 25 to founding Workshops by Huda, an offline space that aims to empower, educate and inspire learning in a whole new way. Alvi notes people with “low skill levels generally have a hard time finding work. If the minimum wage rises, this will also cause companies to think twice about their hiring needs, which will impact jobs that women currently hold.”

Prior to getting used to the customs and workforce in Canada, many immigrant women seek to pick up job skills. On average, immigrants have lower employment rates and incomes than non-immigrants.  Even as wages are increased, many ethnic women will still be forced to take on precarious work to make ends meet. Those looking to better their current situations may have to look elsewhere in the form of enhanced personal or professional skills.

However, as employers prepare for the second salary bump upcoming in 2019, only time will tell how Ontario adjusts. 

This piece is part of the "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontario" series. Writers interested in participating are encouraged to join the NCM Collective for an opportunity.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018 06:56

‘Precarious Work will Define our Future’

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By: Susan Korah in Ottawa

Three labour experts have highlighted the critical need for radical changes in government policies and programs that are out of step with the current realities of most Canadians’ work lives.

They were speaking at a panel discussion on “In Search of the Next Gig: A Snapshot of Precarious Work in Canada Today” in Ottawa on January 25, hosted by Policy Options Magazine, a digital publication of the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP).  Moderating the panel was Jennifer Ditchburn, editor of Policy Options, and former journalist with the Canadian Press (CP).

“If we are to walk the walk that matches our talk about how inclusive we are in Canada, those who create our labour policies and programs should take a close look at the precarious work situation that most Canadians are caught in, and design their policies accordingly,” commented Sunil Johal, one of the three panelists.  Johal is policy director at the Mowat Centre, an independent public policy think-tank, associated with the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance.

The other two panelists were Francis Fong, Chief Economist with the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPAC) and Wendy Vuyk, regional coordinator of the Eastern Ontario Region at the Ontario Centre for Workforce Innovation.

“Most policies and programs intended to support Canadian job seekers are tied to conventional ideas of employment and were designed for the 1950s when there was a 9 to 5, lifelong job for the wage earner in a typical family,” he said.

Fong, Johal and Vuyk analyzed the changes that have sent the labour market into a tailspin, leaving employees with few options other than what all three, as well as Ditchburn termed “precarious work,” – short term jobs with no stability, few or no benefits, and no prospects of leading to a lifelong career path.

“We need a formal definition of precarious work because precarious work will define our future.” -Francis Fong

A major cause of the erosion of stable jobs and the growth of precarious employment was the decline of the manufacturing sector in the 1990s and early 2000s and the growth of the high-tech sector, the panelists explained.

Research challenges

Fong pointed out that even research on this topic is lagging behind the times. He emphasised that in order to capture the nuances of this new workforce reality, researchers need a clear definition of the term “non-standard work”, an umbrella term for all kinds of precarious work.

He said that the lack of consensus on a definition of precarious work poses a serious challenge for researchers, whose work underpins policy decisions.

“We need a formal definition of precarious work because precarious work will define our future,” he said.

He added that no single government agency is collecting all the relevant data, although Statistics Canada has been tracking it since the 1990s, a period which saw the rapid rise of this phenomenon.

The problem is further complicated, he said, by the need for the involvement of so many sectors --labour, immigration, the provincial and federal governments, as well as the private sector.

Stagnant wages, declining unionization

Highlighting another major problem, Johal discussed the disconnect between Canada’s overall economic growth and workers’ wages.

“While the economy continues to grow, wages have become stagnant,” he said, adding the costs of food, housing, childcare and other necessities have also gone up.

Johal also referred to the decline of unionization, which added to worker’s problems.

“Workers have nobody to represent them and speak about their issues,” he said.

He said the most vulnerable were the 30 percent of workers who were in precarious jobs because they had no other option, as opposed to the 70 per cent who did this type of work by choice.

“We need to focus on that 30 percent and to refresh our social policies and programs to address their needs,” he said.

Preparing for the future world of work: An optimistic outlook

Vuyk’s presentation focused on preparing for the future, given the changing economic landscape which she termed the “fourth industrial revolution.”

“Sixty-five percent of today’s elementary school children will work in jobs that don’t exist today,” she predicted.

Nevertheless, she presented an optimistic outlook, saying that although jobs will be lost, others will be created by new inventions.

She emphasized the need to train young people to become entrepreneurs and to think about their careers as a business.

She called on educators to emphasize soft skills such as communication, financial literacy, cross-cultural sensitivity, flexibility and adaptability.

She said it was important for also parents and guidance counsellors to understand that university is not the only key to gainful employment.

She advised parents to give their children as many life-broadening experiences as possible, including travel.

“We have to create a culture of lifelong learning,” she concluded.

Susan Korah is an editor and freelance writer who has worked with a number of publications while continuing to manage her personal travel blog. This piece is part of the "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontarioseries. 

Thursday, 02 November 2017 08:43

The Great Canadian Resumé

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By: Joyeeta Dutta Ray in Toronto, ON

Toronto has always been a magnet for new immigrants. Some come here to escape bullets. Some come to fill up their wallets. Some are here to breathe in unpolluted air.

Over the last few years however, more and more skilled immigrants have traded their Permanent Resident garlands for a rosy life elsewhere.

The Toronto Star reports that every province and territory except for Ontario, saw immigration numbers rise drastically. Whereas in Ontario, the numbers dropped from 133,600 to 99,500.

The reason is almost always one of the two: Unemployment or underemployment!

This was seldom the case even a couple of decades back.

When Mila Lebuda fled to Toronto from communist Poland in 1991 at the age of 21, the country embraced her with open arms. It did not matter that she did not speak English or that she didn’t have much work experience. The grounds for adopting her were purely humanitarian.

“Canada gave me a new lease of life” she says. This is where she met her future husband, Vlad Lebuda another Polish immigrant like her. She made money as a caregiver. He drove a truck. As finances improved, their lifestyle did too. For Mila, the biggest barrier was language. Once that hurdle was crossed, life was sunshine and tulips.

However, not everyone finds the same success in Canada!

Mila’s tech-savvy Polish friend, Aron* (named changed for privacy) had higher ambitions. He went back to Poland as soon as conditions improved. “There are better opportunities there now. Despite living here for 10 years, he never got his due,” says Mila.

Not surprising! Statistics Canada reports that even after being in Canada for 15 years, immigrants with a university degree are more likely than the native-born to be in low-skilled jobs.

New Immigration Policies; New People

There’s a shift in trends. As new policies replace older ones, immigrants flying in to Canada now, are visibly different than those who came in earlier. They are better educated, better versed in English and better positioned professionally.

There’s a reason behind that. Earlier Canada took in more unskilled workers to meet economic needs. But recruitment efforts for skilled workers, entrepreneurs and investors are the need of the hour now. “Since 2006, the government has made dramatic changes to the federal skilled workers program by raising language requirements, restricting eligibility to specific professions and pre-screening applicants’ foreign credentials”, says the Toronto Star.

Yet, these very skilled immigrants are the ones who are having it rough.

For Roopa Rakshit who moved with her husband and 12 year old son to Thunder Bay (Ontario) from Thailand in 2012, migration was a decision based on being located closer to their daughter who was studying in UBC, Vancouver.

It was an intimidating prospect at a stage in their lives when they were well-settled professionally. But they were confident that their international resumes would open doors. They were in for a surprise!

It took Roopa 4 years to find a job suited to her skills. “I was an environmentalist in a United Nations affiliated organization in my previous life (Bangkok). While my International experience was appreciated, I was made to realize that I fell short of the “Canadian experience.“

In the race to build her “Canadianess”, Roopa sprinted on the volunteering path, networked along the way and picked up a scholarship for PHD at Lakehead University. That was the trophy that gave her the much needed break. “It was my research topic on energy planning with the First Nations people that led me to my current job in a First Nations Technical Services Organization.”

Malak Ahmed, who moved from Egypt in August 2016 with her husband and three daughters, has a similar story. She was a Business Unit Director in a leading advertising agency in Cairo. Despite her fancy title and a McGill Graduate Certificate, no employer was ready to lay out the red carpet for her.

“While I did expect to work my way up, I didn’t expect to stumble so many steps down the ladder in the process. I was surprised that a city that boasted of a high rate of immigration would put so much emphasis on 'Canadian experience'!”

To cross the barrier, her next step was to get an employment agency to rewrite her CV. That’s quite another story.

The Great Canadian Resume

Few countries have elevated the resume to such heights. It’s almost an art form here, based not on jotting down your skills but how strategically you phrase them. No matter how clipped your English, how impressive your name card or how many reference letters you come armed with, it’s hard for foreigners to master this skill.

Only Canadians know the trick! They have ingeniously made a business out of it, creating employment for themselves to help clueless newcomers like Malak.

When the planets finally aligned to bless her with a job, the pay didn’t match up to her qualifications. But despite it all, Malak chooses to stay on. “After the revolution in Cairo, the economy struggled and so did we. But it’s all been worthwhile. We like the cultural diversity here. The kids love their schools.”

Easy to see how soaring cost of living, rising crime and jobs with unscrupulous hours in Cairo make Canada seem like Disneyland.

For Alexa, who came from Honduras (Central America) to North York, the road was as rough.  She arrived armed with a Bachelor’s degree in Business, a Masters in Marketing, 5 years at an International Telecommunications company and dreams to make it big. None of these made things any easier!

“I was a Marketing and Sales Manager at Huawei Technologies in Honduras. The biggest challenge for me was to start my career from the bottom up.” But she wouldn’t head back either. “Honduras is a small country where 50% of people live in poverty. There is a high rate of homicides and corruption.” In contrast, Canada offers commuting safety, free education and healthcare. The choice is clear!

Escaping corruption was high on the list for Marcia to move from Brazil as well. She arrived with her husband in Toronto in 2016. “The social discrepancy of wealth makes for very dangerous streets, with thefts happening everywhere” she says. While it’s a dream to stroll around North America’s safest metropolitan “without fear of getting mugged”, the Marketing professional who worked for 9 years in a leading multinational company, found it hard to find a job. It took her 3 months to find full-time employment and when she did, the job was an entry level position in Customer Service that paid less than she expected because of her lack of “Canadian Experience”.

“You feel like your experience in a foreign country is devalued because you haven’t applied it in Canada. Recruiters tend to disqualify you too”, she says.

Canada: More dependent on new immigrants than ever

Canada thrives on new immigrants to bring in the bucks. Estimates from the Conference Board of Canada reveal that if Canadian employers recognized and rewarded immigrant skills, the country would earn an additional $10 million annually.

Instead, every year, Canada loses valuable doctors, engineers, accountants and marketing professionals to the USA, where “American Experience” is an unheard of criterion! While others take up blue collar jobs that don’t do justice to their skills.

Local employers argue that “Canadian Experience” assures understanding of the soft skills essential for success here.

However, it pays for them to remember that the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC) has laid down a strict declaration that “Canadian Experience” is discrimination and can only be used in very limited circumstances.

Interestingly enough, smaller cities and rural areas in Canada have set a better example. In 2013, Moncton, New Brunswick ran career fairs that encouraged employers to hire immigrants. In Manitoba the tiny cities of Winkler and Morden have not just drawn newcomers in large numbers with their successful immigration programs, but also helped them settle in to a quality lifestyle.

How can Ontario follow suit?

Roopa suggests, “Employers should be encouraged to accept professional immigrants to maximize on their experience. The integration can include in-house orientation.” Marcia agrees. “There should be more incentives from the government to encourage companies to hire qualified foreigners in appropriate positions. The success of the immigration policy should be measured not by the number of people who come in but by the number of people who stay on successfully in the country.” 

For a country that prides itself on being humanitarian, learning from the smaller towns and listening to the less heard voices could be the key to turning things around before an ageing population and shrinking birth rate get the better of the nation. 

By: John Delva in Montreal, QC

To improve newsroom diversity, La Presse recruited outside of francophone journalism schools.

An office’s group shot usually exudes pride, but this one caused embarrassment.

In December 2016, Quebec’s La Presse published one of its entire organization. The lack of visible minority faces among the roughly 250 editorial workers contrasted with the paper’s multicultural stance.

“Many of our articles promote inclusion, but when people (on social media) saw the picture, they threw that inconsistency back in our face,” said Sebastien Rodrigue, director of digital and web platform.

This led the paper to organize a four-week internship program, geared towards cultural community reporters.

Awareness surrounding inclusiveness is not a new pursuit at La Presse, according to Eric Trottier, deputy managing editor.

“La Presse’s got good parity between men and women. It’s generally at 50-50, even in executive roles,” said Rodrigue.

But matters involving cultural communities’ representation have been harder to tackle, starting with inclusiveness in coverage.

“We rounded them up (groups of reporters) and showed them in their own work how, ‘You interviewed 10 people and they were all white francophones.’ We told them this is not what society looks like,” said Trottier.

There were also issues with participation from journalism schools. For years, the paper’s internship program, which catered to students of all cultural backgrounds, had brought only a handful of non-Quebecois reporters. Anglophone university students failed the paper’s French test while French universities produced few applicants.

La Presse decided to cast a wider net this time around.

“Journalism isn’t like the medical field. You need to go to medical school to become a doctor. But if you’re curious and self-reliant, we’ll give you a chance,” said senior managing editor Alexandre Pratt.

Jeiel-Onel Mézil, one of the program’s four interns, had just graduated in business administration at HEC Montréal when he got his chance. Though he had never set foot in a newsroom or journalism class, being a reporter had been a dormant goal of his.

“Journalism speaks to my interests. I’ve always known I’d be doing this some day,” he said.

He and Marissa Groguhé, another intern, impressed their bosses on several fronts — so much so that Mézil and Groguhé have been hired by the paper until the end of 2017.

“Their stories make the front page regularly and rank amongst the best work we put out,” said Trottier.

But the month wasn’t without its share of difficulties. Lela Savic recounted learning how to write fast often required staying at the office for 12 hours or more. Mézil, described by executives and fellow interns as a fast writer, feels “learning how to come up with an effective lead is tough.”

For Trottier, these experiences squared with the main goals of the internship, which he considers “an enormous success.”

“We definitely want to do this again. We may have found a way to bring in more minorities in the newsroom, which we weren’t able to do with the traditional way.”

Even if “deep down” his wish was to find “jewels” among the reporters, the program was primarily about training individuals who could eventually work in journalism, whether at La Presse or elsewhere.

The ample learning opportunities that came with this made made the experience memorable for Rita Boghokian. She said that while her being a visible minority was valued by her colleagues, who encouraged her to use non-Quebecois sources for stories, La Presse also treated her as a full-fledged reporter. Consequently, she worked on a range of stories she wanted to tackle.

“Just because we were visible minorities didn’t mean we only covered stories about visible minorities.”

This openness is why Savic looks back longingly at the month, wishing the experience had been longer. She says the internship has helped her grow from a journalism student into an actual journalist.

“I come out of this with a big bag of tricks. I’ve learned about abilities I have and things I need to improve on. I’ve learned that I’ve got great interviewing skills, that I can get people to talk. This’s given me confidence in what I can do as a reporter,” she said.

John Delva is a freelance reporter who has defended his master's thesis in journalism studies at Concordia University. This piece was republished under arrangement with JSource. The original posting can be found here.

By: Andrea Elliot in Toronto

“You don’t have Canadian experience.” This is what a new immigrant from New Delhi with a university degree, an MBA and a wealth of prior business experience was told at a recent job interview. In her 40s, the woman had arrived from India, confident she would have greater career opportunities and a better life for her daughters, but was quickly disheartened to find her impressive resume held little weight within our borders.  

This is a story that has become all too common in Canada — especially when you consider that we have the highest foreign-born population (20%) of any G-8 country. While most Canadians take great pride in our nation’s rich history of diversity, the sad truth is our businesses are not always so welcoming to people with different names, customs and attire. A recent Canadian employment study proved as much, revealing that job candidates with Asian names (Chinese, Indian or Pakistani) are less likely to be called for interviews than their counterparts with Anglo-Canadian names, even when they have a higher level of education.

In my role at Dress for Success, it’s heartbreaking to see these stats come to life every day. Over the past five years, the number of new Canadians who have turned to our organization for career help has climbed to a point where immigrants now represent almost half of the women we serve. But, while our charitable organization is best known for providing women in need with professional attire, these new immigrants face challenges that go far beyond finding the right outfit for an interview.

Imagine entering a new country as a refugee. You’re a young parent with kids and no income. English is your second language. You don’t have a computer to work on your resume, or a smartphone to communicate with potential employers. You have to go to the public library to access the internet. You have no social network to rely on, and you’re certainly not on LinkedIn. Sometimes, I have to remind our volunteers and community partners of just how difficult an uphill climb our immigrant population faces to find employment.

We help women position their experience and education for a Canadian audience, removing any hidden cues that may cause employers to be dismissive of their resume. 

Then, there are the hidden obstacles, understanding not just how to dress for an interview, but the social cues that could be holding them back (for instance, it might be inappropriate for a conservative Muslim woman to shake hands with a man during a job interview, but an employer may not be aware of this).


Needless to say, the learning curve for immigrants is steep. Each woman who shows up at Dress for Success has her own personal journey and it is our mission to embrace that journey, so they can gain confidence, find a job and earn financial and economic independence. We start by getting to know them through private, one-on-one conversations that last up to two hours and often become incredibly emotional. These are smart women who are desperate for nothing more than a better way of life, and our volunteers can’t help but become intimately involved.

After chatting about their interests and qualifications, we help these women position their experience and education for a Canadian audience, helping remove any hidden cues that may cause employers to be dismissive of their resume or LinkedIn profile. We also have them create “elevator pitches” on why they should be hired, and stage mock interviews to help them prepare. We even hold networking events where they have the opportunity to introduce themselves to executives and managers, and practice speaking in a corporate setting.

When it comes down to it, our mission is to build these women up every day so they not only gain confidence about what they can do, but feel good about who they are as individuals. There are many ways for people to get involved in our cause, but this is really a rallying cry to corporate Canada — I’m calling on our country’s business leaders to examine their hiring policies from the top down and take a more active role in providing new Canadians with opportunities.

For all the talk of a global marketplace, our businesses still act local. The number of women who continue to tell me they feel they’re being judged by their family name is significant and disheartening. It’s also disappointing when qualified candidates who have held great jobs in their home countries are not considered for similar positions here in Canada.

The sad truth is that while many of today’s corporate leaders are concerned with reaching male-female ratios and gender equality, promoting opportunities for new Canadians is not on their radar, even though it would be in their best interests to do so — in 2015, the Conference Board of Canada estimated that if Canadian employers and professional regulatory bodies did a better job of recognizing immigrants’ skills, they would earn an additional $10 billion annually, at minimum.

There is simply no reason or excuse for a “Canadian experience” job requirement to exist in 2017. And, as we continue to celebrate Canada 150, it’s time for our businesses to realize — as our country did years ago — that opening their doors to new immigrants will only make them stronger.

Andrea Elliott is Chair of the Board of Directors of Dress for Success Toronto, and its fundraising committee, Corporate Giving. 

By: Charles Lammam and Milagros Palacios in Vancouver 

With home prices rising across the country, many of us would likely assume that housing costs (including rent and mortgage payments) are the most expensive budget item for the average Canadian family.

In reality, however, the average Canadian household spends more on taxes than any other expense—including housing. Specifically, in 2016 the average Canadian family (including single Canadians) earned $83,105 in income and paid $35,283 in total taxes. That’s 42.5 per cent of income going to taxes.

Surprised? You’re not alone.

For most of us, the income and payroll tax deductions on our paycheques do not total anything close to this percentage. But to understand the full cost of taxation, you must consider all the taxes—both visible and hidden—that we pay throughout the year to federal, provincial and municipal governments including sales taxes, property taxes, fuel taxes, carbon taxes, import taxes, alcohol taxes and much more. All these taxes add up and make our overall tax bill expensive.
So how does the overall tax bill compare to housing costs?

The average Canadian family spends 22.1 per cent of its income on housing—only about half as much as it spends on taxes (again, 42.5 per cent).

In fact, taxes consume more of the average family’s income than all the basic necessities of life combined. If you add up the average family’s spending on housing, food and clothing in a year, it comes to 37.4 per cent of its income—still quite a bit less than what we pay in taxes.

With 42.5 per cent of income going to taxes, Canadian families may rightfully wonder whether they get good value for their tax dollars. Of course, taxes fund important government services. But we shouldn’t simply assume that higher taxes always provide better government services.

While it’s ultimately up to individual Canadians and their families to decide if they’re getting the best bang for their money, you must know how much you pay in total taxes to make an informed assessment. That’s where our annual calculations help. They estimate the cost of government for the average family. Armed with this knowledge, Canadians can then determine if they think they’re getting good value in return.

Some perspective might help.

In most provinces, more than 50 per cent of our tax dollars finance generous pay for government employees. In fact, government employees, on average, receive 10.6 per cent higher wages than comparable private-sector workers doing similar work. And that’s on top of the much more generous non-wage benefits (pension coverage, job security, early retirement) the government sector also enjoys. Of course, we need qualified and well-paid government workers, but is this pay and benefit premium the best use of our tax dollars?

In the case of health care, which consumes around 40 per cent of most provincial budgets and is a fast-growing expense, international comparisons show that, despite high levels of spending, Canadians have comparatively poor access to technology and doctors, and endure longer wait times for surgery. It’s hard to see how we get good value for our money in public health care when measured against other countries that also offer universal access.

Most troubling is when our tax dollars are outright wasted on boondoggles and failed government programs. A recent study documented more than 600 cases where the federal government failed to meet its own objectives over a 25-year period, resulting in up to $197 billion of wasted tax money.

Bottom line—if Canadians are more informed about the true cost of government, they will be better equipped to hold government accountable for how it spends our tax dollars. And that leads to a more robust public debate about the overall tax burden and whether we’re getting our money’s worth.

Charles Lammam is the Director, Fiscal Studies, at the Fraser Institute and Milagros Palacios is the Senior Research Economist at the Fraser Institute. This piece was republished under arrangement with the Asian Pacific Post.

Commentary by Bessma MomaniJillian Stirk, Anna Klimbovskaia 

The story of Canada’s embrace of different languages, cultures and peoples is not a new one. Diversity in Canada is in many ways a cornerstone of our identity, and for generations, we have largely supported government commitments to immigration, multiculturalism, and pluralism. Now there is a new story emerging about this commonly celebrated feature of our identity. At a time of rising global xenophobia, anti-immigration parties, and populist nationalism, Canada is projecting a powerful and unique global message – diversity in society can be and is good for everyone. While some repeat the normative case for diversity, the argument is sometimes more rhetorical than substantive. The recent report (April 2017), The Diversity Dividend: Canada’s Global Advantage, dives into why diversity makes economic sense and how to spell out a clear case for its many gains.

With support from the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and a number of other partners, we set out to investigate the link between diversity and economic prosperity. We conducted round table consultations with 100 Canadian business leaders across Canada, carried out interviews with industry associations, and analyzed under-used Statistics Canada data. To arrive at our findings, we used a matching methodology whereby we compared firms that were statistically identical in all factors that influence revenue, save their share of workplace ethnocultural diversity. By controlling for all other variables, we were able to isolate the effects of diversity on revenue. The term “ethnocultural diversity” is used here to refer to individuals born outside of Canada, and to those first-and-second generation immigrants who speak a language other than English or French at home.

Our findings show a pronounced diversity dividend. Specifically, we find that a 1 percent increase in ethnocultural diversity among employees is associated with an average 2.4 percent increase in revenue and 0.5 percent increase in workplace productivity across 14 industries. Businesses that welcome diversity show an increase in their economic bottom line. The sectors reaping the greatest benefits from ethnocultural diversity include business services (e.g., administrative, tech, law, and insurance firms), information and cultural industries (e.g., publishing, broadcasting, arts, and telecommunications companies), and transportation, warehousing and wholesale enterprises. These sectors experienced 6.2 percent, 3.6 percent and 4.1 percent growth in revenue, respectively, for every 1 percent increase in ethnocultural diversity in the workplace.

Manufacturers, mining, oil and gas extractors, banks, communication and utility companies, rental and leasing operators, and consumer service providers also benefit from greater ethnocultural diversity. The hard data spells out a clear case for why diversity is profitable. When we paired this data with the responses of Canadian business leaders, we found an even stronger case for the benefits and net economic effects of diversity.

The consultations with the business community, backed up by a review of the scholarly literature, showed that ethnocultural diversity in the workplace facilitates creativity and generates ideas by bringing together individuals with different lived experiences, outlooks and approaches to problem solving. A diversity of employees can invent new products and services, meet a wider range of clients’ demands, and even help companies expand into new markets, domestically and abroad. In effect, an ethnoculturally diverse workforce not only stimulates production of improved goods and services, it also connects businesses to a wider range of customers, clients, and partners.

Of course, greater workplace diversity is not without challenges. Creating an inclusive work environment that is conducive to maximizing the advantages associated with diversity may require providing certain accommodations and expending additional resources at the outset. Companies may need to make (and stick to) diversity-related commitments in their corporate culture. Inclusive hiring, training for human resources staff in recognition of international experience so they value differences, mentorship programs, measuring and understanding workplace demographics, and introducing diversity into procurement policies, are all key to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. These adjustments may seem costly in the first instance, but they are more than justified when businesses stand to gain from them substantial performance dividends.

What does this relationship between diversity and economic prosperity mean for broader policy reform? First and foremost, there is a need to address recurring issues with foreign experience and credential recognition. In 2009, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration estimated the cost of not recognizing immigrants’ foreign credentials to be between $2.4 and $5.9 billion a year. We need to remove the barriers that prevent qualified but unemployed or underemployed immigrants from finding gainful employment, so we can capitalize on this stranded resource as well as alleviate the oversupply of unskilled labour.

Our conclusion is that ethnocultural diversity is good for the Canadian economy and is, in some respects, an underestimated tool for economic prosperity. But the conversation about diversity does not end there. What our research points to is that this conversation is just beginning.

While we focused on ethnocultural diversity in our study, there are many other important aspects of diversity that, if addressed, would improve the inclusiveness of society: gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, to name a few. Canada is a nation built on immigration, but more importantly, it is a nation built on difference. We have celebrated, and we should continue to celebrate the things that make us unique, while reinforcing the things that bring us together. Prioritizing pluralism not only makes us richer as a country, it makes us a stronger country. 

By arrangement with Policy Options - Institute for Research on Public Policy 

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