Politics

Liberals defend action on illegal border crossings as Tories gain poll traction

The Liberal government today defended its handling of the influx of asylum seekers crossing the U.S.-Canada border illegally as a new poll showed Conservative rivals gaining traction on the hot-button issue.

Critics call for long-term strategy as government sets aside $2M for shelter for asylum seekers

Bill Blair, federal minister of border security and organized crime reduction, attends a press conference in Toronto on Friday, August 3, 2018. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

The Liberal government today defended its handling of the influx of asylum seekers crossing the U.S.-Canada border illegally as a new poll showed Conservative rivals gaining traction on the hot-button issue.

Holding a joint news conference with Toronto Mayor John Tory to outline plans to provide short-term lodging for asylum seekers, Border Security Minister Bill Blair suggested the public isn't clear on the facts.

"There has been, unfortunately, a great deal of misinformation," he said. "I read the results of that poll myself, and unfortunately, Canadians have a misunderstanding of the number of people coming and the circumstances in which they're coming.

"We've got to make sure Canadians have enough information to be informed."

The Angus Reid survey released Friday reports more than two-thirds of Canadians see the situation as a "crisis."

The Liberals are working on a "triage" system to funnel more asylum seekers away from Toronto and Montreal, which are already dealing with housing shortages, and move them into other communities with available beds. Until that system is in place, hundreds will be housed at area hotels and motels.

The federal government agreed to locate, book and pay for the hotels to temporarily house the asylum claimants who must vacate college dormitories in Toronto by Aug. 9, ahead of the start of the academic school year in the fall.

Hotel rooms could cost $2M

Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) confirmed to CBC News that it has allocated up to $2,080,000 to book hotel rooms in Mississauga, Markham, Brampton and North York until Sept. 30.

According to tender awards published on a government procurement website, the government has secured contracts with hotels that include a Holiday Inn, two Radissons and a Hampton Inn.

The largest contract, valued at nearly $850,000, was awarded to a company located in St. John's, Nfld. The IRCC said the company is acting as a broker for a hotel located in Brampton.

The Conservatives have accused the Liberals of taking an ad-hoc approach to the situation instead of developing a long-term, fully-costed strategy.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says the wave of asylum seekers who have illegally crossed the border into Canada has created a crisis in the country. 0:27

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer told CBC's Power and Politics today the government has lost control of the file.

"I think anytime you have a government that allows 30,000 people over the course of a short period of time to come into Canada illegally — the impact that that has — that is a crisis, and Canadians have a crisis of confidence in their government right now in terms of coming forward with a solution to this," he told host Catherine Cullen.

'Aggressive and forthcoming'

Nearly 32,000 people have illegally crossed into Canada from the U.S. to claim asylum since January 2017.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the poll shows the government must be more "aggressive and forthcoming" in relaying information to the public.

"It indicated a level of concern among Canadians," the minister said during an event in Edmonton. "It also indicated, and I think this is a very important message for the government, that no sufficient facts and figures are understood about the border crossing situation." 

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says his government needs to do a better job of communicating the work his government is doing on the asylum seeker file. 1:21

In an interview with CBC Radio's The House, Blair conceded the government must do more. He said the government has a responsibility to make sure the process is appropriately managed, that international obligations are met and that the best interests of Canadians are maintained.

"Clearly, I've got to do a lot of work in making sure that we provide accurate and honest information to Canadians about what is actually transpiring," he told host Chris Hall.

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