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Cuts to immigrant services made to ensure efficiency: minister

Immigrant settlement service funding cuts decried by the Liberals as "draconian" are necessary to ensure taxpayer money is used efficiently, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Thursday.

The Liberals are urging the government to reverse a decision to cut national settlement funding allocations by $53 million a year.

"I don't think I've ever seen such a harsh and draconian and inexplicable cut to the most vulnerable people in our midst," Toronto MP Bob Rae said at a news conference.

"This is a terrible decision. It cannot be allowed to stand."

The "slight" cuts in what is now a $340-million budget for immigration settlement services comes after steady increases since the $111 budget inherited from the previous Liberal government, which had frozen funding for 13 years, Kenney said on a conference call.

"There are some reductions in the overall investment in settlement services from 2010 to 2011," Kenny said, "(but) the vast majority won't be negatively affected."

After a request for proposals was put out earlier this year and bureaucrats analyzed the responses, some agencies did not get their funding renewed, Kenny said.

"The organizations have to meet certain performance measures," he said.

"They have to serve a large number of clients, they have to have solid programs, financial accountability, measure their outcomes and be responsive to the local needs of the communities they're serving."

Rae said Ottawa is breaking a powerful Canadian tradition of welcoming newcomers and helping them settle here. Governments can "un-make" decisions, he added, urging the Conservatives to do just that.

"If ever there was a moment for repentance and reconsideration, here we are on Dec. 23, think a little bit," Rae said.

"Think a little bit more about just who you are hurting."

The federal Liberal Greater Toronto Area caucus has written an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper demanding he rescind the cuts, which represent an 11 per cent cut nationally. The vast majority of the cuts are in Ontario, where the reduction represents 85 per cent of the national number.

"The Conservative government is turning its back on newcomers at a time when support to better integrate them into the Canadian economy and society is more important than ever," the Liberal's multiculturalism critic Rob Oliphant said in a statement.

Kenney attributed the larger drop in Ontario to reallocation to other jurisdictions, as immigrant settlement patterns shift.

Tags: canada, immigration

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