Greg Selinger, Manitoba premier, asks feds to double refugee sponsorship cap

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger added his voice to provincial and municipal leaders calling for immediate action from the federal government on the Syrian refugee crisis.

'We think we can absorb the people very readily,' NDP premier says on Power & Politics

Manitoba to accept more Syrian refugees, increase aid

8 years ago
Duration 8:37
Premier Greg Selinger appeared on CBC's Power and Politics Friday on the role provinces should play in the Syrian refugee crisis, and whether premiers should get involved in the federal election campaign

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger added his voice to those of provincial and municipal leaders calling for immediate action from the federal government on the Syrian refugee crisis.

"We think we can double the number of people we can take in the refugee category," Selinger said in an interview on Sunday on CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

"We've been capped for several years at about 500 on the public side. If the federal government would lift the cap on public sponsorship, we'd be willing to do even more. It's always been our objective to have more people come into Manitoba."

Immigration is a federal issue. Provinces have lobbied the government for more say over immigration and refugee issues, but currently only Quebec has control over its own immigration policies.

We're willing to step up and do our share.— Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger

Selinger called the federal position on immigration "a barrier" and said the country's premiers, through the Council of Federation, have asked for the cap to be lifted all categories of immigrants, including refugees.

"If the public cap was lifted, we could do more and have more support for people," he said. 

Selinger said he is confident Manitoba could handle an increased influx of refugees.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair speaks at an Ottawa rally. Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger has said he will stay out of the federal campaign efforts. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)
"We think we can absorb the people very readily, both in the health care system, in our schools, social service agencies. We're not worried about that at all, quite frankly."

Selinger added that he hopes to see more co-operation between federal and provincial levels of government.

"It always works better in this country when the federal and provincial governments collaborate and enter into partnerships," he told host Rosemary Barton.

"We can serve more people. We're there, and we're willing to step up and do our share. We'd like the federal government to take immediate action."

In total, 2,374 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Canada since 2013. Of those, 642 (27 per cent) have done so with government assistance, and nearly all the rest had help from private organizations.

'Right time' for deficit spending

Selinger also weighed in on the battle over balanced budgets and deficit spending.

On that issue, the NDP premier took a different stance than federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who has vowed to balance the books; along with the Conservatives and in contrast to the Liberal infrastructure plan that would see three straight years of deficit spending.

"We think this is exactly the right time to be investing in things that keep the economy on a steady keel with economic growth," Selinger said, adding that his own province's "small deficit of 0.6 per cent" has resulted in a "major infrastructure program that will create 60,000 jobs over five years."

"I don't think it's unreasonable for all the political parties to have a major commitment to infrastructure right now," he added.

"By putting those investments on the ground right now — shovel-ready projects — you get the immediate jobs but you also make us more competitive in the long term."

Selinger's government has pledged $1 billion for roads, bridges and flood protection structures. In the meantime, the province's 2015-16 budget revealed a $422-million deficit and a summary net debt that has gone up to $20.4 billion.

No-show on campaign trail

While other premiers have waded into the federal campaign — most notably Ontario's Kathleen Wynne — Selinger insisted he'll be staying away from the campaign trail.

"My decision has always been to focus on governing for the province of Manitoba," he said. "That's the job I've been elected to do."

Selinger's popularity continues to be low in his own province. Some have said he's seen as a liability for the federal party and was asked not to show up for Mulcair on the campaign trail.

But Selinger brushed the rumours off.

"You'd have to ask them [the federal NDP] that," he said. "The federal government makes their own call, every situation is different."

"Most premiers are staying out of the federal election," he added. "Some decided to get involved. I think it's an individual decision in all cases."