Municipal candidates differ on needs of newcomers

Toronto’s municipal election is eight months away. But candidates are already bringing important issues to the table. Two members of the Chinese community offer different perspectives on the city’s role in settling newcomers.

As the only mayoral candidate of Chinese descent declared so far, Sonny Yeung, says that addressing his community’s unique needs will give him an edge in the race. He also hopes that his candidacy will force a debate about city-run language programs, integration and labour-market access.

“If the other candidates want to get support from Scarborough and Chinese voters they will have to address some of the issues I raise,” he said.

Yeung wants to turn the former Scarborough Civic Centre into an ‘Immigrant Integration and Adaptation Centre,’ to provide language and access training for newcomers to Toronto.

But Karen Sun, executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council’s Toronto Chapter, and city council contender in Ward 19 says there are more appropriate ways the city can help immigrants.

“I think the city needs to address Chinese community issues as much as it needs to address issues of other community issues,” Sun said. “The city’s a big place and there’s a lot of different communities.”

Sun describes the city’s role as “building bridges” among Toronto’s diverse cultures.

Three federal programs already exist to help immigrants settle in Toronto. Sun also notes that the Centre for Information and Community Services in Scarborough helps newcomers.

She says for newcomers, understanding process is often the biggest hurdle.

“People just don’t know who they should be talking to,” she said. “So we direct them to the appropriate city department or to their city councillor.”

Working at the CCNC, which is funded by the city, Sun directs programs to foster and celebrate Chinese culture in Toronto. The Centre also serves as a resource for all Chinese residents – old and new.

“Our organization partners with a lot of other ethnic communities…We may come from different parts of the world, but the issues that we face here tend to be quite similar.”

Sun suggests investing in more effective translation software on the city’s website would improve service for immigrants. The website currently translates with free computer software, Google scholar, which Sun says has a tendency to confuse things.

City phone lines, including 911 and 311, are more accessible for non-English speakers, Sun says. Using a service called Link Line, a caller and a city worker are redirected to a translator through a switchboard. So long as the callers know the name of their language, in English, Sun says this system works well.

According to the 2001 national census, 95 per cent of new residents in Canada settle in metropolitan areas; the trend towards settling in Toronto is increasing.

Meanwhile, a 2006 study by the city shows that international immigrants account for round 50 per cent of Toronto’s population, 48.2 per cent of whom from Southern and Eastern Asia.