Saturday October 31, 2015

Ontario to increase Syrian refugee targets to help meet Trudeau's goals, Kathleen Wynne says

Canadian prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau is greeted by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne at the Queens Park Legislature in Toronto on Tuesday.

Canadian prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau is greeted by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne at the Queens Park Legislature in Toronto on Tuesday. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Listen 12:36

By Chris Hall

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says her government will try to expedite the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the province to coincide with Justin Trudeau's bold commitment to bring in 25,000 refugees by the end of the year.

"We need to align with what the new government is going to do,'' Wynne said in an interview with CBC Radio's The House.

Ontario pledged $10.5 million last month to help deal with the Syrian refugee crisis, and Wynne said then that the province hoped to resettle 10,000 refugees by the end of 2016, including an initial 2,500 by the end of this year.

But the province is now looking at a more ambitious timetable after her meeting this week with prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau at Queen's Park.

"If we can ramp that up because of assistance from the federal government we will do that,'' Wynne told host Chris Hall. "Our ministry is getting ready to do more than the 2,500 if we can. but we just have to see what kind of process we can land on with the federal government."

At the same time, Wynne acknowledged that there are obstacles, including security precautions, that have to be taken into account and the province is trying to determine whether Ontario needs to put people on the ground in the Middle East to help process families.

"Those are the kinds of questions we will be asking the new government," she said.

New relationship with the provinces

Trudeau has spoken on the phone to premiers since becoming prime minister-designate, but Kathleen Wynne was the first one he met in person since his election victory on Oct. 19.

Wynne was a prominent supporter of Trudeau during the campaign, in large part because her relationship with the outgoing Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, was frosty at best.

She accused Harper of playing political games over her demand for improved public pension benefits. Harper saw no need to meet with her, and, in a dig at Wynne, he told reporters in August that a senior official once told him "You will have your best relations with the premiers who are doing a good job in their own jurisdiction."

Wynne expects a far more positive working relationship with Trudeau, even though she understands that relationship will change once he becomes prime minister.

"But what's constant is that we share a value system. We believe that working together is important not just for Ontario but for the whole country.''

Among the other issues the two discussed during their meeting:

Climate change. Wynne and Trudeau spoke about the UN climate change meeting in Paris in December. Ontario has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 15 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. But Wynne says the prime minister-designate "isn't there yet" when it comes to setting a national target to reduce emissions.

"We've got our targets in place. So I want to work with him and the other provinces to see how we can enhance those, or how we can get to those more quickly if we have a federal partnership."

Public pensions. Wynne says she and Trudeau confirmed his willingness to work with her government to help establish an Ontario Retirement Pension Plan on the same basis as the existing retirement plan in Quebec.

Infrastructure. Trudeau's Liberals pledged during the campaign to spend $125 billion on infrastructure projects such as public transit, affordable housing and clean energy projects. Ontario has earmarked a similar amount for infrastructure including roads, bridges and other projects.

Wynne says the two agreed at the meeting on the need to make these investments, and on how the money would begin to flow.

"There's already been a request for us to, and not just us, but provinces and territories, to get the lists ready. And by lists I mean the priority projects, the things we know are necessary for our economic growth," Wynne said.