Ontario is continuing to call on the federal government to foot the bill for asylum seekers who are living in the province as their refugee claims make their way through a backlogged system.
“These people that are crossing the border, mostly in Ontario and Quebec, are federal responsibility, but they haven’t lived up to their end of the bargain,“ Todd Smith, the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services for Ontario, who is responsible for immigration issues in the province, told The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson.
Smith, who has been on this file for only a few weeks, said that one of the first phone calls he made after taking on the role was to Bill Blair, federal Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction.
“We all are on the same track here and wanting to do more for these folks,“ he said. “But the border is federal responsibility and there needs to be more order at the border.“
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The issue of who will pay for the resettlement costs associated with the surge of asylum seekers who have crossed into Canada from the U.S. irregularly in recent years has been a point of contention between the Ontario Progressive Conservatives and the federal Liberals. Ontario has repeatedly said it is up to the federal government to provide financial assistance for asylum seekers living there.
Last year, Ontario also called on Ottawa to cover the $200 million it says it has spent on resettling asylum seekers who crossed irregularly into Canada and who now reside in Ontario.
Since 2017, more than 45,000 asylum seekers have crossed into Canada from the U.S. at irregular points of entry, mainly through the border between Quebec and New York.
Smith said that Ontario does not yet know the exact amount it has spent on irregular asylum seekers since then, but he estimated that it was in the hundreds of millions and that the public accounts committee has asked the provincial auditor general to provide an exact amount.
He added that the number of students in the public school system in Ontario has more than doubled in recent years, bringing the new costs to education at around $64 million. And on legal aid, he said that the federal government has contributed between 30 and 40 percent of the costs for immigration-related services in Ontario, whereas other provinces such as Manitoba and B.C. have received a higher percentage.
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“That varies from province to province,“ he said. “We know in Manitoba, for instance, that the feds have paid 90 per cent of those costs, in B.C., 72 per cent.“
In March, former Ontario attorney-general Caroline Mulroney urged the federal government to fully cover the costs for a $45-million legal-aid service for refugees and immigrants. Ontario proceeded to slash 30 per cent of funding for Legal Aid Ontario in the 2019 budget, and eliminated funding for refugee and immigration legal services.
In March, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that Quebec would be receiving funds for the influx of asylum seekers in the province, but accused Ontario of not cooperating with them on the matter.
“On the Ontario side, unfortunately the provincial government has not wanted to engage in any way with the federal government on this issue, despite our repeated attempts to come to a working arrangement, and we have instead worked directly with municipalities,” Trudeau told reporters at the time.