Ontario formally requests $200M from Ottawa for asylum seeker costs

Ontario's new Progressive Conservative government has formally requested $200 million from Ottawa to cover the costs of dealing with asylum seekers crossing into the province from the United States.

Federal approach to problem 'testing the patience and generosity of Ontarians,' minister says

Lisa MacLeod, Ontario minister of children, community and social services, sent a letter to her federal counterpart last week to formally request $200 million to go towards covering of asylum seekers. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

Ontario's new Progressive Conservative government has formally requested $200 million from Ottawa to cover the costs of dealing with asylum seekers crossing into the province from the United States.

In a letter to her federal counterpart, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod said that "Ontario can only do so much" and expressed concern over Ottawa's "approach to the issue of illegal border crossing.

"For more than a year, communities across Ontario have been straining to support a high number of the illegal border crossers, and the approach of the federal government is now testing the patience and generosity of Ontarians," she said.

While the PCs previously signalled that they would demand increased federal funding, Thursday's letter laid out clearly how the province arrived at the $200 million figure.

According to MacLeod, the money will cover:

  • $74 million for temporary housing costs in Toronto alone, as well as $12 million for Ottawa and $3 million for the Red Cross for support services.
  • $90 million in social assistance costs.
  • $20 million for "primary and secondary education spaces."

The recent influx of irregular border crossings also has strained Ontario's legal system, MacLeod argued.

Calling the issue of asylum seekers a "crisis," the newly elected PC government in Ontario has been critical of the federal government's policies.

So far, Ottawa has offered up $50 million to provinces coping with the influx. That sum includes $36 million for Quebec, $3 million for Manitoba and $11 million for Ontario — but Ontario's money was funnelled directly to Toronto.

Toronto responsible for shelter as of Oct. 1

Today, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada briefed reporters in Toronto on the border situation, offering assurances that the federal government has a handle on it.

"We are operationally ready for any possible scenarios," a senior official said. "We have a robust awareness of the situation at the border across the country, and we are able to respond to influxes when they occur."

The federal government will provide hotel rooms for 540 migrants, including those who are now lodged in college dorms and have to leave to make room for students. As of Oct. 1, Toronto will be responsible for housing the refugee claimants.

The officials stressed that the number of asylum seekers crossing the border fluctuates over months and years and is affected by many global factors beyond government control, such as conflict and natural disasters.

As for the $200 million ask from the Ontario government, the official could only say that the figure has not yet been verified or discussed.

At a meeting of the country's premiers earlier this month, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced that they would continue to press for the federal government to boost financial support for the provinces.

Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen has been critical of the Ford government's rhetoric around asylum seekers crossing into Ontario and Quebec from New York. That tension frequently has played out on a public stage, with MacLeod and Hussen taking occasional shots at one another in the media.

Hussen has said that he is willing to hear Ontario's concerns and call for more funding, but that the federal government had not yet received a formal request.

Hussen's spokesman Mathieu Genest said the government is managing the increased movement of asylum seekers in a "responsible and measured way" and that it stands ready to work with the Ontario government.

"Abiding by Canadian laws to keep Canadians safe and respect our international obligations is not optional, it is a requirement," he said in an email. "It is disappointing that the Ontario government has decided to view this as a choice, and is playing politics on this issue by spreading disinformation about a vulnerable group of people.

"With Ontario's decision to not participate in discussions surrounding asylum seekers, we are engaging directly with municipalities in order to implement our plan."

At a committee hearing on Parliament Hill earlier this week, several federal ministers defended Ottawa's handling of asylum seekers.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the federal government has made it clear that simply entering Canada is not a "free ticket'' for newcomers to stay in the country.

But no matter how a person arrives in Canada, the individual must be given a fair hearing to determine whether they require protection, Goodale said during the committee meeting.

The most recent figures suggest that the number of crossings has declined recently.

Statistics from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada show the RCMP intercepted 10,744 people at irregular border crossings between January and the end of June this year. Last month there were 1,263 irregular border-crossers, down from 1,869 in May 2018.

With files from The Canadian Press