Ford government is ending co-operation with Ottawa on resettlement of asylum-seekers
July 5, 2018
Blaming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for creating “a mess,” Premier Doug Ford’s new Progressive Conservative government has withdrawn Ontario’s co-operation with Ottawa over asylum-seekers.
But Trudeau emerged from a 40-minute meeting with Ford at Queen’s Park suggesting the rookie premier does not understand the complexities behind the migrant crisis currently straining Toronto shelter resources.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, right, sits with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on July 5, 2018. Hours earlier, Ford’s government said it was ending federal-provincial agreement on asylum seekers.
“It didn’t seem to me that the premier was quite as aware of our international obligations to the UN Convention on Refugees as he might have been,” the prime minister told reporters Thursday, after the leaders’ first official meeting.
“So I spent a little time explaining how the asylum-seeking system works and how our system is supposed to operate,” said Trudeau.
“I reassured the premier--or I attempted to reassure the premier--that the asylum-seeker stream is separate from the immigration stream,” he said.
“Canada has always had a separate procedure to assess refugees and to determine whether they are, indeed, fleeing violence, persecution and terror, or else they are simply economic migrants, at which point they would get sent home.”
As first disclosed by the Star, Ontario Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod advised federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen on Wednesday that the province was stepping back from its involvement in alleviating a crisis sparked by President Donald Trump’s policies on migrants.
Over the past year, thousands of asylum seekers have entered Canada from the United States. The influx has strained the federal, provincial and municipal facilities earmarked to help such unexpected new arrivals.
MacLeod said Thursday that Trudeau made a “choice” in welcoming the illegal border-crossers and the province should not have to foot the tab for that.
“He was the one that tweeted out that everyone was welcome here, and, as a result of that, we’ve had thousands of people cross the border illegally and it’s putting a strain on many of our public resources,” the minister said.
“If he wants to welcome them in, that’s fine, but he should make sure that he’s paying for them and compensating the municipalities as well as … the provincial government,” said MacLeod, who added that she was not yet sure how much money this would save Queen’s Park.
The impasse sounds the death knell for the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement signed by then-Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne last November.
Family members from Somalia are helped across the border into Canada from the United States Friday, February 17, 2017 near Hemmingford, Que., as part of a growing number of asylum seekers braving the elements to illicitly enter Canada.
Under the accord, Ontario agreed to accommodate a share of the newcomers “recognizing the need for flexibility in responding to emerging humanitarian needs” and the federal government said it would backstop the provinces and municipalities with additional funding.
Ford ducked reporters Thursday, but his office was pointed in its criticism of Ottawa.
“The federal government encouraged illegal border-crossers to come into our country, and the federal government continues to usher people across the U.S.-Quebec border into Ontario,” said Simon Jefferies, the premier’s press secretary.
“This has resulted in a housing crisis, and threats to the services that Ontario families depend on. This mess was 100 per cent the result of the federal government, and the federal government should foot 100 per cent of the bills,” said Jefferies.
“The Ontario government offers a wide range of supports for newcomers to our province and country, including employment supports, language training, bridge training programs, and settlement services, and will continue moving forward.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory said “thousands of refugee claimants and asylum seekers are in Toronto’s shelter system” and “this cannot continue and must be resolved.”
“This includes 800 people, many who are children, who will need shelter after Aug. 9, when we can no longer use two college dormitories,” said Tory.
“The City of Toronto has been clear that we need assistance to deal with unprecedented numbers of refugee claimants and asylum-seekers,” he said.
Maxim Labrecque, spokesperson for Quebec Immigration Minister David Heurtel, said in an email that talks continue with the special working group on resettling asylum seekers who arrive in Quebec but don’t want to settle there.
“Quebec maintains services that it is offering to asylum seekers, but it must also do so while respecting its real capacity, which has already been achieved,” he said.
The migrant issue was not the only bone of contention in the Trudeau-Ford summit.
While the premier, who was sworn in Friday, tweeted he had “a productive first official meeting” with Trudeau, the two also sparred over Ontario’s decision to scrap its cap-and-trade climate change alliance with Quebec and California.
That sets the stage for Trudeau imposing a national carbon price on Ontario, which was exempt from the federal program because it had its own greenhouse gas-reduction plan.
Ford has set aside $30 million for a court challenge to the the prime minister’s proposal, which would take effect next year.
“Obviously, it’s better if we can work collaboratively with the provinces,” said Trudeau, who said he reminded the newly elected premier that he, also, had a big “mandate” from voters.