Pallister eyes scaling back refugee support as tiff with Ottawa festers

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's visit to Winnipeg this week did little to thaw relations with Premier Brian Pallister on health funding agreements and sharing the cost of asylum seekers.

Premier warns Ottawa not to 'threaten' Manitoba, says province doing 'heavy lifting' on asylum seeker support

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister Pallister has repeated his assertion that the federal government needs to step up and offer more financial assistance to deal with the growing numbers of asylum seekers entering the province. (CBC News)

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Premier Brian Pallister said the province might have to scale back the number of government-funded refugees it welcomes to Manitoba in order to fund the growing number of asylum seekers crossing into the province.

Pallister estimates the province will spend over $20 million this year on refugees, but said that is not nearly enough to accommodate the roughly 1,200 asylum seekers the province predicts will cross over from the United States into Manitoba.

"At some point, resources are just so stretched that you are not doing anyone a favour by bringing them into a situation where resources are being made available to others, and are diminished for them," Pallister said in an interview Thursday.

"We are stepping up on this side more than anyone else and there is pressure, and something has to give here."

He noted the province has agreed to bring in 300 government-assisted refugees this year. Half of those refugees have already come to Manitoba, but Pallister says the province might not be able to afford to bring in the rest. 

The border town of Emerson, Man., has turned into one of three major entry points for asylum seekers coming into Canada unofficially. Official figures from the federal government show 195 crossed into Manitoba in the first two months of this year, compared to 575 for all of 2016.

Greg Janzen, reeve of Emerson, told CBC News last week he estimates the number for this year is likely well over 300.

Pallister repeated his assertion that the federal government needs to step up and offer more financial assistance for the growing crisis. He scoffed at the recent commitment by the Trudeau Liberals in the 2017-18 budget, which extended a commitment for immigration and refugee legal aid across the country, but only increased the figure by $2.7 million. 

"It is not being adequately addressed by the federal government, while Manitobans are doing the lion's share of the heavy lifting," he said.

'Don't threaten us,' Pallister tells Ottawa 

Manitoba's reluctance to sign a federal health-transfer deal continues to foster ill-will between the two governments.

Pallister isn't buying assertions from two federal cabinet ministers, and now the prime minister, that the Factory of the Future is coming to Manitoba.

The high-tech research facility was promised by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper and was re-confirmed by the current Liberal government.

Pallister says the promise to build the facility in Manitoba should never have wound its way into negotiations over health funding, and Trudeau's words are not enough.

"One can say they are supportive of Factory of the Future and not commit to Manitoba's component, and I need to have a commitment in writing from the prime minister that takes the threat off the table, and I don't think that's asking too much," Pallister said.

During a stop in Winnipeg Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked directly if the Factory of the Future research facility was coming to Manitoba. His answer was 'yes.' (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Manitoba's premier says he watched Trudeau comment on the Factory of the Future at a stop in Winnipeg yesterday. Trudeau was asked directly if the research facility was coming to Manitoba, and his answer was "yes."

But Pallister says words are not enough.

"I'm glad you got that answer. I still need it in writing … if it is on and that is the correct answer, what's the hesitation in putting it in writing?"

No deal in sight

Pallister says he's "excited to finalize a health-care agreement with Ottawa" now that he knows financial assistance for home and mental health care have been assured to all provinces.

But the premier says there are still negotiations to be completed on opioid treatment, health programs for Indigenous people and an outstanding bill to the feds for northern medical transfers that Manitoba maintains is at $37.7 million.

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