The Ontario cabinet minister responsible for immigration has demanded an apology from federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, who she says called her “un-Canadian” in attempts to “bully” her into accepting the federal government’s line on immigration.
The remarks came after MPP Lisa MacLeod said the province of Ontario would not join the communique signed at a meeting of federal, provincial and territorial ministers in Winnipeg.
Following the meeting, Hussen told reporters it was “unfortunate” that Ontario was not part of the communique, which called for a collaborative and long-term effort to improve the immigration system.
He made the comments as MacLeod sat at the back of the room instead of standing alongside Hussen and other ministers on the podium.
“I see the minister is in the room but not joining us at the podium,” Hussen said, addressing MacLeod. “It’s not too late, minister, I encourage you to come join us, you’re part of the Canadian family.”
Hussen also accused Ontario of employing a rhetoric of “fear and division,” and using the province’s refugee crisis to condemn people fleeing difficult situations.
“Intentionally doing this is irresponsible, it’s divisive, it’s fear-mongering and it’s not Canadian and it is very dangerous.”
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Once Hussen and other ministers left the room, MacLeod took to the podium to rebut Hussen’s remarks.
“When I challenged the federal minister of immigration on some of the issues that we’re confronting in Ottawa, the exchange became testy and I chose to leave the meeting,” she said.
MacLeod said Ontario is in dire need of assistance from the federal government as it tackles expenses associated with handling refugees and asylum seekers.
She said Toronto and Ottawa have requested $75 million and $11 million respectively, while the province of Ontario has incurred costs of $90 million in support services for refugee claimants who crossed the border illegally and sought asylum.
Hussen has been non-committal on about whether additional funding is forthcoming, saying in Halifax earlier this week that he’s “perplexed” by the request at a time when the province hasn’t committed to help Ottawa with a plan to redirect migrants to temporary shelters outside of Toronto.
MacLeod, who is also the Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues and Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, accused Hussen of trying to intimidate her when she was “simply asking them to fix the problems that they have created with their federal policies.”
MacLeod concluded with another demand for an apology.
“I think maybe the minister should sit down, have a nice cup of tea, calm down a little bit and maybe phone me and apologize for calling me un-Canadian.”
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Michelle Rempel, the federal Conservatives’ immigration critic, tweeted her support for MacLeod, and slammed Hussen’s “disgusting” behaviour.
“He is a bully, who tries to shut down scrutiny of Trudeau’s failure to address the illegal border crossing crisis with name-calling, insults, and condescension. This is no way to build a compassionate immigration system,” Rempel wrote.
MacLeod also found support from her Saskatchewan counterpart Jeremy Harrison, whose province also didn’t sign on to the communique. Harrison said the Saskatchewan government held firm in its position that the federal government fund supports for asylum seekers.
“Canada has yet to follow through on a commitment to fully support refugee transition and there is now added pressure for provinces to also support asylum seekers.”
— With a file from The Canadian Press