Commentary by: Mona Mashhadi Rajabi in Tehran, Iran
I was standing in front of my suitcase and thought about what I had packed into it. I had one suitcase for my documents and their certified translations, as well as one suitcase for my clothes and other personal belongings.
Two suitcases for a person who wanted to move to another country and pursue Ph.D. studies. A person who had lived 32 years in her home country and had a history in that place.
I assumed that the most important things that I could carry with me were the documents that spoke to my education and work history.
All the important documents that I gathered in my life were in a suitcase. They included my certificates, recommendation letters, writing samples, medical documents, especially those of my daughter, and the identity documents of my three-member-family: my husband, my daughter, and I.
I also had to pack up the university documents as I wanted to pursue my study and they were required in order to register in the program. So I put my Master's and Bachelor's degrees as well as my transcripts in the suitcase.
I prepared all the documents and certified translations of my bank accounts, even going as far as including the deed to my apartment in Tehran.
With all of my documents piled into in one suitcase, the thought struck me: “Is this really all I have gained in my life?”
How could I prove myself to the people who neither know me nor my country?
Would Canada recognize my documents?
So I packed everything and moved to Canada.
Following registration, the start of the program revealed that most of the newly admitted Ph.D. students would be required to enroll in some of the foundational courses from the Master's program due to their foreign credentials. The move signified that their foreign Master's degrees were not fully recognized.
The documents that illustrated what I had been doing professionally were not useful at all either. After surfing the Internet and talking to many people who had been living in Canada for many years, I learned that without “Canadian work experience” it would be difficult to find a good job.
So none of my documents were really useful. No one knew me, the universities that I got my degrees from, and the companies that I had worked for. So what was the point of carrying all these documents?
It was a heart-breaking moment. I moved to Canada in the hopes of being able to do what I was good at, could do well and was the dream of all my life, but Canada did not recognize my credentials.
The surprising part of the story was that the government had assessed and accepted me based on these same documents. The university had accepted that I studied for at least 17 years – but still did not give me full credit for Master"s degree. The job market discounted my credentials even further.
The Canadian job market cared not about what I had done but what I was going to do in Canada. It seemed to me that Canada needed talented and hardworking people and granted them admission to Canada under different visa programs based on their achievements in their home country. But after moving in, Canada wanted to educate them based on the skills that were needed in the country, and making them ready for their own job market.
It was at this moment that I realized that all I had to bring to Canada was a prepared me: A person who knew what was waiting for her in this moving process, a person who was ready to embrace the new situation and ready to learn new things, a person who wished to start afresh as she contemplated that a brighter future would eventually come, and a person who did not become disappointed from the hardships along the way.
After I moved to Canada and witnessed the reality, I decided not to rely too much on my achievements and experiences in Iran. I decided to be eager to learn new things and routines in the hope that hard work will eventually pay off.
I was ready to make a new beginning without my documents and titles, so I could write a new life story.
This piece is part of a mini-series within New Canadian Media’s Mentorship Program. The writer was mentored by Alireza Ahmadian.
Mona Mashhadi Rajabi holds a Master’s degree in economics. As a business journalist living in Tehran, she has written for publications such as Donyay-e-eghtesad, Tejarat-e-farda, Jahan-e-sanat and Ireconomy.
By: Caora Mckenna in Halifax
If you’ve ever travelled or worked abroad, speaking and listening in a language that isn’t your own, you know the feeling of lying down at night exhausted. Your brain worked all day fumbling from one language to another. Every ounce of energy is drained. When your brain is that exhausted, you call home. You listen to your mother tongue. You listen without thinking – it’s a relief.
For Canada’s consistent stream of immigrants and their children, third language or “ethnic” media can be a refuge. It is news and stories in their language of comfort. Ethnic media -the official CRTC term – is defined as media that is not English, French or Indigenous. It is a collective of “others.”
The number of foreign-born Canadians has been increasing steadily since 1951. Today, metro Vancouver has almost as many foreign-born residents as the entire population of Nova Scotia. According to Statistics Canada, nearly half of the country’s population will be immigrants or children of immigrants by 3036. Of the 270,847 immigrants Canada received in 2015, 23 per cent had no working knowledge of English or French. For them, ethnic media is more than a haven, it’s a lifeline. The weight of this responsibility bears down on the journalists who work in ethnic media.
“It has always been the underdog industry,” says Madeline Ziniak, chair of the Canadian Ethnic Media Association and former national vice-president of Omni TV, Canada’s leader in multicultural programming. “Fraught with casualties, it’s never been easy.”
The state of ethnic media in Canada is as varied as its parts. Print is struggling to survive, radio is successful, online is innovating and TV has long been a quiet powerhouse.
Who is listening?
Across the country “good morning” is said in more than 200 languages every day. Buenos días is heard in Toronto, ਸ਼ੁਭ ਸਵੇਰ in Halifax and 좋은아침 in Vancouver. Omni TV in Ontario offers programming in 49 of those languages. The Canadian Ethnic Media Association’s directory of ethnic media outlets has 1,200 entries from B.C., Alberta and Ontario alone. Of the 1,609 Radio and TV Broadcast licences defined by content language, 275 are not English or French. There is similar momentum south of the border. In the United States there are over 3,000 ethnic media outlets, and since 2006 ethnic media is the only sector of print media that is growing.
Canada’s history of immigration is a history of storytellers. In 1835, Upper Canada’s first German weekly newspaper was printed in what is now Kitchener, Ontario. The Canada Museum und Allgemeine Zeitung’s subscribers were hungry for news from Europe – in a familiar voice. “It’s a bridge to Canadian citizenry,” says Ziniak.
Ethnic media is a vital tool to connect citizens not only to their past, but to Canada’s present, and to one another. Most of the time, that bridge is built with content by minorities, for minorities and about minorities. This has helped and hindered ethnic media by giving it legs to stand on, but few places to go. But this is changing. Today, car radios play international news and music, weekly newspapers cover local politics and run helpful how-to stories. You can watch Hockey Night in Canada in Punjabi from your living room on Saturday night. Ethnic media’s voices are here, they are speaking, and they are many.
The bridge that bends
George Abraham is a Canadian journalist who built a new platform. He started his career at the Times of India in Mumbai, formerly Bombay. Twenty-six years later, from his office in Ottawa, Abraham runs newcanadianmedia.ca. Canadian media, he says, “is not inclusive enough.” The problem: “The mainstream speaks to the mainstream, and the ethnic speaks to the ethnic.”
Dr. Catherine Murray, associate dean of Undergraduate Academic Programs and Enrolment Management and professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies at Simon Fraser University was the principal investigator in SFU’s 2007 Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Media in B.C study. She says the way different cultures are communicating within Canada is something all journalists – both mainstream and ethnic – will have to “struggle with” in their content.
Mainstream media is taking up the challenge. CBC launched a five-year strategy, A space for us all, in 2014. Its inclusion and diversity plan commits the CBC to “be relevant and representative of the population it serves.” It is starting with the people making the content. Canadaland found that, in 2015, 90 per cent of CBC’s staff was white.
Dr. Sherry Yu, an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia,worked alongside Murray on SFU’s 2007 study. Yu says a “new stream” of ethnic media is emerging to cover issues that are misrepresented or not represented at all in mainstream media. It is driven by a younger generation of journalists whose content is online and in English. It is pushing the limits of ethnic media’s traditional audience.
Rooting for the underdog
As waves of immigration shift Canada’s idea of identity, daily and weekly newspapers pop up and go under in steady rhythm. In 1840, Canada Museum und Allgemeine Zeitung was sold to Heinrich Eby. It changed hands three more times before 1865 when a competing German newspaper, the Berliner Journal, forced it to stop printing. Today, the steady stream of immigrants is causing saturation in already niche markets. The 2007 study Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Media in B.C. found that 28 ethnic media outlets were serving Vancouver’s 50,000 Korean residents. (North Bay, Ontario also has 50,000 residents, but only three mainstream outlets.) There are only so many Korean restaurants, travel agencies and businesses in Vancouver. Yu says this makes competition for advertising revenue “huge.”
For Halifax’s first and only Arabic radio station, 99.1 Radio Middle East, saturation isn’t the problem. Arabic is the second most-spoken language in the city, but Oudai Altabbaa, the station’s accounts manager, says it’s “extremely hard” to introduce ethnic media into Halifax’s traditional economy. Still, he sees ethnic media as a way to “refresh” the economy, bringing in new ideas and new money. “A new way to communicate things to get people a little bit closer to each other.”
Altabbaa is optimistic. Working in radio, he has good reason to be. From 2011-15, third-language radio stations across Canada actually made money. Their English and French counterparts did not.
Other Canadian media outlets turn to funding from organizations like the Canadian Media Fund in order to innovate and stay open. The Canadian Media Fund is mandated by Canadian Heritage and funded by Canada’s TV companies and the federal government. It contributed $371.7 million in funding to Canadian television and digital media projects in 2015-16. Only $2.5 million went to “diverse languages.”
Money is a chief concern across all media, and ethnic media is well rehearsed in the pocket pinch. Many organizations “operate on a shoestring” says April Lindgren, associate professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism. Having time and resources to do good quality, timely and verified news “can be a challenge if you are the editor, the publisher, the reporter and the ad salesman,” says Lindgren. If the money runs out, so does the ink.
The National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada represents more than 500 members of the ethnic press and media. In 2012 it asked its members about business challenges. Forty-three per cent said they weren’t earning money for their work.
Waves of immigration sway ethnic media’s successes and failures. In 1958 Canada had more new Italian immigrants than British ones. At that time Canada’s third language press was building a national presence: there were 250 newspapers, representing more than 50 cultures. The “fiercely Canadian, proudly Italian” daily newspaper Corriere Canadese was started in 1954 by Dan Iannuzzi. In 1995 it revamped, adding Tandem, an English-language weekend edition –aimed at their readers’ kids and grandkids. In 2013, after funding cuts, Corriere Canadese joined the ranks of retired Canadian ethnic newspapers. It looked like the end of an era. Except, six months later, it was revived – and is in print today.
Sitting in corner stores and restaurants, it reaches 30,000 Canadians daily. As Sherry Yu says, ethnic media is “volatile.” It is also unpredictable, persistent, and necessary.
At once, a commodity and a social movement, increasingly important ethnic media in Canada is more important than ever. Ethnic media outlets, like immigrant communities, know that to survive is to adapt. They have learned this the hard way. If they don’t survive, says Yu, “nothing comes after.”
This article was republished under arrangement with the Signal.
Commentary by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
Anyone who has travelled to subcontinent knows it is not always such a salubrious destination. Incredible India, as the country sells itself in tourism brochures, can be incredibly chaotic, unwieldy, hot, dusty, venal, bovinely, and polluted – and then you accidently end up drinking the water.
Given his weakened state since returning to Canada, Canada's Defence Minister, Harjit Sajjan, has no doubt picked up a severe political bellyache from his recent week-long trip to the country.
In what should have been a soft PR exercise, Sajjan’s first trip to India as Canada’s Defense Minister, has gone from being an electoral victory lap in his birth country to a slog on Ottawa’s apology circuit.
The trip has brought into question his integrity as a leader, diminished his venerated standing before military personnel, and even dulled his image within the Sikh community.
During a speech at the Delhi based Observer Research Foundation security think-tank, Sajjan veered off script and deliberately inserted a line about being ‘the architect’ of Operation Medusa, a large-scale Canadian offensive in Afghanistan in 2006. It was a false statement: in Kandahar, where Sajjan served three tours while a reservist, he was as a mid-level officer providing intelligence to his commanders.
At his first sitting in the House of Commons on Monday, the minister, looked weary from repeating contrition for the battlefield boast, but failed to provide an explanation for it.
"I'm not here to make excuses," he said to the press gallery. "I'm here to acknowledge my mistake, apologize for it, learn from it and continue to serve."
Not since the cameras showed up at Premier Glen Clark’s house, had a BC politician seemed in such desperate need for a foxhole.
It's not unusual for Canadian immigrants to flash their success when they return to their homeland – Sajjan also made a visit to his birth village in the Punjab on this trip. These blingy displays however tend to be exhibited through heavy gold sets and brand name clothing, and not, as in the Minister case, through false claims of military prowess.
Had it been Sajjan’s only embellishment of his operational role, this errant speech could have been written off as typical politician’s self-aggrandizement. However, he also stated this alternative fact in an interview in 2015.
While this controversy has hogged the spotlight back in Canadian media this week, it was not the only trouble spot arising from his first visit back to India in 14 years.
The Minister’s tour, particularly of Punjab, was notably bumpy as the Chief Minister of the state, Captain Amarinder Singh and his cabinet, refused to meet with Sajjan.
Singh alleged that the minister and his father, Kundan Sajjan, a former executive of the World Sikh Organisation (WSO), are both Khalistan sympathisers. At the height of the Punjab conflict in the 1980’s, the WSO espoused the formation of an independent Sikh state.
The allegation against the minister is baseless and seems motivated by Singh’s bitterness at the Trudeau government. The Canadian government did not permit Singh to campaign last year among Canada’s one million-plus South Asians, forcing Singh to cancel the Canadian leg of his North American tour.
The Punjab Chief Minister’s rebuff, however, did little to help Sajjan’s mandate of advancing Canada-India relations, or of re-energising stalled Canada-India free trade talks which were first launched in 2010.
However, Sajjan’s most agonising moments during the week-long trip may have been in his circumspect responses to questions about the Ontario NDP provincial government recently passing legislation recognising the 1984 Delhi killings of Sikhs as an act of genocide. By some counts, as many as 30,000 Sikhs were killed by Hindu mobs in a four-day murderous frenzy.
In 2011, Surrey-Newton MP Sukh Dhaliwal was the first federal MP to petition for the recognition of the 1984 killings as an act of genocide, receiving support then from the current Minister of Innovation, Navdeep Bains. Dhaliwal was denied a visa to India in 2011, retribution for him spearheading this motion.
The failure of the Indian government to prosecute the government officials who organised the mobs has been a source of much pain for Sikhs worldwide for the past three decades. Sajjan however distanced himself from the motion.
In a stumbling response, he highlighted it was brought forward by a private member of the Ontario legislature (Harinder Malhi), insinuating the motion was politically motivated during an election year in the province. He further added that this was not his position as a member of the federal Liberal government.
Sikhs who were hopeful Canada’s most recognisable cabinet member would help resolve this long outstanding social justice issue were clearly disappointed in these answers. Left in the wake of Sajjan’s India trip are gnawing questions about how much of his cultivated image as Canada’s ‘badass’ minister, and a comic book hero for justice, is truth and how much is hyperbole.
Afterall, why would he distance himself from a social cause as glaring as the Delhi killings? And why would a veteran break the military code about boasting and take credit for the sacrifices of other soldiers?
After nearly 18 months in office, it seems all we have learned about the first term MP from Vancouver South is that it’s hard to gauge exactly where the soldier ends the politician begins.
Jagdeesh Mann is executive editor of the Asian Pacific Post. This article has been republished under arrangement with the Post.
UPDATED data on foreign investment show more than $885 million in foreign investment flowed into Metro Vancouver’s residential real estate market in just five weeks, representing 86% of the capital invested in the sector by foreign purchasers throughout the province, according to the government. Foreign investment in Vancouver was over $264 million, in Richmond […]
by Maria Ikonen in Gatineau
A new feature documentary might have you thinking twice when buying tomatoes and greenhouse products next time you visit the grocery store.
“Migrant Dreams” explores how migrant women agricultural workers struggle within Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). Canadian employers use the TFWP when “qualified Canadian citizens or permanent residents are not available” for certain occupations.
Canada has welcomed millions of temporary foreign workers since the program began in 1973 under the name of the Non-Immigrant Employment Authorization Program (NIEAP). This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), which places approximately 17,000 seasonal workers from Mexico, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad/Tobago and the Eastern Caribbean States in Canada every summer.
Both programs have become an important source of labour for the agricultural industry in particular. An article on Guatemalans employed for low-waged work in Canada states that every year, migrant workers entering through the program fill more than 80,000 positions.
Employers who hire temporary foreign workers have responsibilities to meet, but director Min Sook Lee, a multiple award winning Canadian filmmaker, shows us the dark underbelly of the program.
Investigating the conditions of the TFWP
Lee, an assistant professor at the Ontario College of Art and Design University, describes “Migrant Dreams” as a discussion about universal principals. “When I visited this farm, I thought it looked a lot more like a refugee camp than the safe living conditions that you would expect in Canada.”
Migrant advocates often cite issues like unpaid overtime pay or serious violations of health and safety standards. Because these workers are afraid of being deported, many don’t speak up about poor working conditions.
For Evelyn Encalada, a founding member of Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) and a collaborator on the documentary, her meeting with seasonal agricultural workers from Chile made her see that she needs to hold her country to a higher standard. "I realized, I have to hold Canada responsible for its international image.”
Encalada’s meeting with the workers had to be set up in secrecy as those contacted feared the threat of deportation after speaking with media.
This issue was discussed recently in The National Post, where another interviewee, Ricky Joseph from Saint Lucia, mentioned that the deportation threat arose “the moment you speak up.”
Other critics have compared the program to the import of thousands of foreign workers in the 20th century to work in the silver and gold mines of Northern Ontario as well as the railway industry. “The mine owners said they were filling a labour shortage. But their real reason was to keep wages down,” writes Thomas Walkom.
Lee's inspiration for the documentary came from a need to draw a picture about migration. Although the program has been around for decades, Lee says that, “‘Migrant Dreams’ is an untold story. There has not been much talk about temporary foreign workers. They are part of our reality.”
Recommendations for change
According to Lee, “the rules and regulations for living accommodations are outdated because Ontario has not changed since 1975.”
Temporary foreign workers can apply for permanent residence if they can show their skills are in continuing demand, and 29,000 of the 192,000 temporary foreign workers who entered Canada in 2011 made the transition to permanent status. However, the rest are subject to the whims of employers who often fail to meet the regulations of the program.
Both Lee and Encalada voice concerns about workers being bound to one employer. “Being tethered to your employer while you are working in Canada means that you are completely unable to speak out about problems that may arise. Your silence is fueled by the rules and regulations,” Lee comments.
“The staffing in charge of these policies is not consistent. Often the inspectors who are supposed to go to farms to ensure that living quarters are up to par just do not exist or they are summer students,” Lee notes.
When asked for a solution, Lee replies, “Workers should be given status upon arrival. Access and pathways to permanent residency is number one.”
She continues, “The migrant labour program creates a labour apartheid in our country. It creates two tiers of labour and human rights — one for Canadian citizens and an entirely different set of rights for non-citizens. That is completely, I think, against the broadly accepted principles of universal justice and human rights that Canada is known for.”
Hope for the future
Lee hopes the documentary will have a political impact and can be used as a tool for social change by anyone who gets involved with government or community organizations.
“I hope it’s used for educating people about the situation for migrant workers and for humanizing migrant workers, who are often dehumanized when they do appear in mainstream media,” she states.
When asked what viewers can do to support temporary foreign workers, Encalada suggests they visit the Harvesting Freedom Campaign, sign a petition and join pilgrimage to remind people that migrants collect our food.
“Let's rebuild Canada and put ourselves in others shoes. Watch the documentary and when buying a tomato, think that is has a story. It has a story of adaption," Encalada concludes.
The documentary "Migrant Dreams" will premiere on May 1 as part of the Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto.
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This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Chandigarh (IANS): The poll season is a busy time for politicians and certainly not for vacationing. But for Punjab’s political leaders, it is also the time for foreign trips. The reason – wooing the strong Punjabi NRI network in other countries.
Punjab, which has a considerable NRI population settled in Australia, Britain, Canada, Malaysia and the US, as also in European countries, sees an important and active role by its diaspora in elections – whether for the assembly or parliament.
Commentary by Mike Molloy and Kurt F. Jensen
The arrival of Syrian refugees fits within the longstanding Canadian tradition of providing solace and protection to the oppressed around the world who are directly threatened by political events beyond their control.
That tradition began with the post-World War II movement of displaced persons, although there had been earlier informal movements of people to Canada in search not only of a better life, but also safety.
The Hungarians, Czechoslovaks, Ugandan Asians, Indochinese and Kosovars — these are just a few of the many communities who have found refuge in Canada. As we reach the midpoint of the movement of Syrian refugees to Canada, it becomes possible to draw some comparisons with past resettlement initiatives.
Comparing the Syrian and Indochinese movements
In particular, the Syrian resettlement today and Indochinese refugee movement in the 1970s share many similarities. Both constituted the largest mass refugee movements to date. Each population faced few alternatives to exile.
Refugees from both groups often risked their lives, escaping by sea, arriving with little more than the clothes on their backs and with few options for permanent settlement.
The Syrians, like the Indochinese, are benefitting from a swell of public concern resulting in the refugees being embraced by Canadian religious and secular groups who have come together to help and ease the settlement process in Canada.
However, in both cases roughly 50 per cent of the Canadian population were opposed or indifferent to the arrival of the newcomers.
Differences on the ground
Differences do exist in the selection processes. In 1979 and 1980, 60,000 Indochinese refugees were selected by 35 to 40 Canadian officials. These immigration officers, RCMP officers and doctors worked under harsh and often dangerous circumstances in remote refugee camps that dotted the coast and frontiers of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
They interacted directly with the refugees and made decisions based on the humanitarian objectives to resettle them successfully in Canada.
Today, the Syrians are preselected by UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) officers or, in the case of Turkey, by Turkish officials who determine eligibility for refugee status and refer them to Canada.
Some 500 Canadian officials (immigration, border service, security, military and health) are screening and processing the Syrians for security and health issues, not in camps, but at centralized facilities in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Concern for whether refugees have reasonable prospects to establish themselves in Canada plays little part in the process.
While harsh, the lives of Syrian refugees in exile are less dangerous than what the Indochinese faced. In Southeast Asia, refugees encountered pillaging and raping Thai pirates.
Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan are more hospitable to the new Syrian arrivals than were countries like Malaysia and Thailand. The navies of both nations which were not averse to pulling refugee ship from shorelines to set them adrift in murderous seas.
The impact of modern media
The refugee selection process today has been transformed by access to instant communications. Information collected at an interview or medical examination in Amman today is processed overnight by a visa office on the other side of the world tonight and flashed back to Amman before morning.
This has provided Ottawa with greater capacity to control the process, but the officers at the front end are working just as hard as their predecessors and moving refugees to Canada at a much faster rate.
To contrast, the processing of 60,000 Indochinese relied on ball point pens, carbon paper and one primitive computer that recorded refugees and sponsors. There were no cell phones or computers in the luggage of the Canadian officers visiting refugee camps, which were sometimes located in dense jungle or on politically-contested atolls in the South China Sea.
During this time, telephone communications between officers in Southeast Asia and Ottawa were so rare as to be described by one officer as “like messages from God; it just was not done. I think we received three or four telephone calls in the course of two years.”
Today, because cell phones are widely used in the Middle East, it’s not uncommon for sponsors and refugees to be in contact long before departure for Canada. Most sponsors of Indochinese refugees only learned their names a few days before they arrived.
Settling in Canada
Despite the passage of nearly 40 years, there's little difference between what the sponsors of Indochinese refugees and the sponsors of the Syrians are expected to do to assist the newcomers when they reach Canada.
The big difference will be settling of government assisted refugees. In 1979 and 1980, there was often just a single employment counsellor at the local Canada Employment Centre responsible for all arriving government assisted refugees.
The Syrians who arrive today are the responsibility of one of 36 expert settlement and integration agencies staffed by highly professional settlement workers, often former immigrants and refugees themselves.
Adaptation to Canadian life was a long hard process for the Indochinese: it won't be much easier for the Syrians. But the ultimate success of Canada's Indochinese community provides a beacon of hope.
Kurt Jensen and Mike Molloy of the Canadian Immigration Historical Society are among the authors of a forthcoming book on the Indochinese Refugee Movement.
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by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga, Ontario
Shahzad Shamim recently settled in Canada with his family – three school-aged children, a wife and a mother – after emigrating from the United Arab Emirates. Instead of renting an apartment or a condo, though, he bought a house in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
With interest rates at an all time low, this is the best time to buy a property in Canada, explains Shamim.
“Why should I pay for someone else’s mortgage by renting a property, instead of paying my own?” asks Shamim, adding that he believes once his family is settled he will be better able to search for work.
It’s widely believed that low interest rates make Canada’s housing market attractive for immigrants who bring with them a significant amount of capital when they arrive.
This in turn translates into an optimistic trend when it comes to prices, explains Adnan Bashir, vice president of Cityscape Real Estate agency. “Demand is escalating; it’s not taking a roller coaster ride, but it is there,” he says.
Demand is created by the growing influx of immigrants, but Shamim insists that low-interest rates don’t mean unlimited purchasing power for new Canadians. “If the interest rates are low, that doesn’t mean I am saving a lot [or buying] a luxury house. It only compels me to afford a reasonable house within my budget.”
The perceived threat of foreign investors
As stated in a CIBC World Market Report released in June 2015, under the heading “The Many Faces of the Canadian Housing Market”, Canada’s housing market is multi-dimensional and cannot be characterized with a blanket statement.
CIBC’s report estimated that roughly 70 per cent of pre-sales and 50 per cent of final sales go to investors. However, the share of foreign investors in this total activity is much smaller than perceived.
“The more significant portion is coming from a situation in which the money is coming from abroad, but the family lives in Canada,” indicates the report. “Now the question arises if this is foreign or domestic investment?”
Whatever it is classified as, this kind of activity requires a much larger down payment and the family often lives in the house after purchasing, suggesting a much higher level of commitment than a typical foreign investor does.
Therefore, in terms of risk, this segment of the market is relatively safe from foreign investors driving up housing prices, the report adds.
Today’s average immigrant buyer
Gurinder Sandhu, the Executive Vice President and Regional Director of Remax, says today’s immigrant buyer is quite different from that of years past.
“People are not buying houses for investment or renting them out and are [not living in Canada],” he says. “Now immigrants are buying to live in those [houses] and they buy for their families.”
Sandhu says this is a result of the world recession. In other parts of the world, buyers are unable to grow their equity and their investments are deemed unsafe because of factors including corruption, poor economy, oil prices and war.
For over two and a half years, the global economy has been on the verge of uncertainty, whereas “Canada’s stable financial institutions and prudent fiscal policy have kept the housing market well intact,” Sandhu adds.
Canada is also viewed as one of the best places to raise families, making it a preferred destination for immigrants.
Sandhu predicts the urban market across Canada will show a healthy single-digit annual ascent, with prices growing less than 10 per cent from the previous year.
Bashir added that this growth will be most significant in areas outside of the GTA. “We will see an increased growth in suburban markets like Hamilton, Pickering and others due to new development and affordability.”
Shamim is one such new immigrant who preferred the Hamilton area, as his eldest child will most likely opt to attend McMaster University after completing high school.
“It’s a nice neighbourhood with plazas, clinics and community centres within a close vicinity,” he says.
Rising prices and interest rates
Bashir says he believes that the biggest challenge faced by today’s immigrants is “money management”, which results in constant demand for smaller down payments.
This is reflective of a market in which housing prices in provinces like Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario – where many immigrants have traditionally settled – are increasing to the point where homes are unaffordable to the working class.
The Bank of Canada indicates that rising home prices have increased household debt levels, but steps taken by regulators to tighten mortgage-lending rules have helped manage the associated risks.
The risk of becoming “house poor” – a situation that describes a person who spends a large proportion of his or her total income on home ownership including mortgage, property taxes, maintenance and utilities – is relatively high, Bashir says.
However, Sandhu indicates that the demand for luxury houses among immigrants is not diminishing either.
“A detached or semi-detached house might not be the first house of an immigrant, but it could be the real dream house. The investors are using their first buy (condo or town house) as a source of equity built up,” he comments.
For the wider market, the CIBC report warns that “the real test will come when interest rates start to rise, whenever that may be.”
Sandhu predicts this will happen, but not in the short term. “Rates may move up slowly, but not in [the] near future,” he says.
He cautions, though, “Constant political and financial upheaval outside Canada reduces the interest rate stability.” However, like Sandhu he says there are no foreseen changes in the interest rates anytime soon.
PRIME Minister Stephen Harper on Sunday announced that a re-elected Conservative government will take additional steps to stop the flow of foreign fighters to and from Canada. He said that building on previous counter terrorism measures implemented under him, a re-elected Conservative government will create a new category of banned foreign travel zones known as “declared […]
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-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit