Liberal MP Adam Vaughan is apologizing after he falsely accused a provincial conservative cabinet minister of blaming education funding cuts on refugee children earlier this week in a tweet that immediately prompted criticism online.
Vaughan deleted two tweets from earlier this week in which he responded to video clips from an interview Ontario’s minister of children, community and social services, Todd Smith, did on Global’s The West Block on Sunday. In those tweets, he accused Smith of refugee “scapegoating” after the minister said the province was incurring additional costs on things like the public education system from the increase in students who arrived through the asylum process.
Vaughan also used two photos of the widely condemned child detention facilities along the southern U.S. border in those tweets and suggested the provincial government was trying to defend its controversial education cuts by directly blaming refugee children.
“The Conservatives tried to take away healthcare for the children of refugees. Now they are trying to blame school cuts on these children. All children need care and all should be in school. We all know where right-wing scapegoating leads us. Our Government won’t cage children,” Vaughan tweeted on Tuesday night.
But that’s not what Smith actually said in his interview — in fact, Smith made no reference to cuts of any kind during his remarks about the cost of irregular migrants on the provinces that are tasked with absorbing them.
WATCH: Federal government has not provided enough to provinces for asylum seekers, Smith says
In the interview on Sunday, Smith was asked for his updated estimate on how much irregular asylum seekers are costing the province of Ontario and how much more he would like to see the federal government provide to help shoulder the costs.
READ THE TRANSCRIPT: Ontario’s Todd Smith speaks with ‘The West Block’
In response, Smith said the province has tasked Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk with investigating to determine a specific number for the cost but that Ontario has requested at least $200 million to cover the cost of its share of the asylum seekers who have irregularly crossed the Canada-U.S. border since 2017.
“They’re looking at all of those costs. It’s the province that bears the cost of education. And we do know that the number of students in our public education system has increased to about over 5,000,” Smith said in the interview.
“That’s more than doubled so the costs for education alone is up in the neighbourhood of about $64 million, twice what it was two years ago,” he said.
An official from the Ontario government said those numbers were calculated using the average cost per student per year from the provincial Ministry of Education ($12,246) and the number of school-aged refugee-claimant children who arrived in Ontario over the past year based on data the official said came from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
At no point during the interview did Smith raise the issue of his government’s cuts to education funding or the reasons it has stated for such cuts, nor did he suggest that the cuts the province has made to education funding were in any way linked to the influx of asylum claimants over the last several years.
WATCH BELOW: U.S. border chief quits amid fury over child detainees
Global News asked Vaughan why he had linked the funding cuts to refugee children when Smith had not done so during his remarks.
In response, Vaughan’s office provided a statement from him saying he had deleted the tweets.
“The children of refugees should not be used as political pawns,” the statement read.
“The children of refugees are in profoundly vulnerable situations across the planet and here in Canada. Earlier this week, I criticized the Conservative government of Ontario on this point over Twitter. My tweet, however, in using a picture of refugee children in detention at a U.S. border facility, did the very thing I was criticizing. I should not have used or referenced the plight of those children in the way that I did.”
Vaughan continued, saying he takes responsibility for the tweet.
“My tweet has been rightly criticized for doing so. I accept that criticism and have taken the tweet down. I am sorry that the tweet pushed what should have been a serious conversation about child welfare into a political debate about what constitutes fair and responsible comment,” he said.
“I remain committed to making sure all children, regardless of the status of their parents, are entitled to have their human rights respected as children.”
WATCH: Thousands protest Ontario education cuts at Queen’s Park
It’s not the first time Vaughan has been criticized for his social media comments.
In February he was forced to apologize and issue a clarification after he tweeted “instead of playing whack-a-mole; Let’s just whack him” in reference to Ontario Premier Doug Ford after Ford confirmed he would not cut full-day kindergarten following speculation he would do so.
Ford introduced a plan earlier this year to cut 3,475 teaching positions over the next four years.
That’s estimated to save the province roughly $851 million and was billed as part of a broader move to both tackle the budget deficit and revamp the Ontario curriculum, although the resulting predicted increase to class sizes has prompted outcry from teachers’ unions and parent groups.
The provincial government has not cited the increase in asylum seekers as the reason for the cuts, though it has repeatedly urged the federal government to provide more money across the board to help it accommodate increased demands on a range of provincial government services.
Users on Twitter jumped on the tweet by Vaughan, with some calling the tweet fake news and others calling for him to delete it.
The Liberal government and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have frequently described fake news and misinformation online as a significant challenge to the integrity of the upcoming fall election and stressed the need to combat it online.
Trudeau also introduced a digital charter earlier this year to fine social media companies that do not counter disinformation on their platforms quickly enough.
At the same time, the Liberals are also giving indications they plan to focus the fall election campaign on linking Scheer with the policies of Ford, who is facing a severe drop in popularity amid the cuts he has introduced during his first year in office.
Ontario is a crucial battleground in the fall campaign given the number of seats up for grabs in the Greater Toronto Area, including Vaughan’s own riding of Spadina-Fort York, which was created in 2015 out of parts of the former riding of Trinity-Spadina (previously represented by NDP MP Olivia Chow).
The federal election is scheduled to take place on Oct. 21.