TORONTO — Ontario Premier Doug Ford's demand that the federal government pay Toronto $72 million to cover housing costs for asylum seekers hasn't gone over well in Ottawa.
Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen's office insists Ford's government needs to stop "playing politics with asylum seekers" and take an active role in helping to find a solution to Toronto's looming shelter crisis.
"It's very disappointing to see the Ontario government use this as a way to score political points on the backs of asylum seekers who are seeking our protection," Hussen's spokesman Mathieu Genest told HuffPost Canada.
He said Canada's international obligations aren't limited to the federal government. "It's something that all levels of government have to work together to live up to," Genest said.
Watch: Trudeau says he explained asylum-seeking system to Doug Ford
Genest told HuffPost the federal government wants to recreate Quebec's "well-managed" system of triaging refugees, but headway on that plan requires provincial participation.
Ontario's legislature resumed Wednesday with a new Progressive Conservative government in power. Ford's government is expected to bring increased pressure over the federal handling of an influx of irregular migrants crossing into Canada.
Ford echoed Toronto Mayor John Tory's request for $72 million in federal funds to cover the costs from supporting the increase of asylum seekers entering the city's crowded shelter system.
"They created this mess and we're expecting them to pitch in and help," the premier said in a statement.
Situation 'urgent' in Toronto
Toronto Mayor John Tory appealed to the federal government in June for funding to help accommodate the influx of asylum seekers.
Unanticipated costs — related to food, accommodation, and staffing — set Toronto back $64.5 million for 2017 and 2018, according to city data.
We need help. We cannot continue to do this alone.Toronto Mayor John Tory
The city has spent $19.2 million on food in the first quarter of 2018, compared to $7 million in 2017. The cost of housing newcomers have also gone up from $6.4 million last year to $17.5 so far this year.
Support services, including accounting, staffing, and communications has also gone up from $2.3 million last year to $6.3 million this year.
City documents call the situation "urgent," noting the average number of refugee claimants in Toronto shelters each night has increased from 459 in 2016 to 2,683 as of May 2018.
"We need help. We cannot continue to do this alone. We just don't have the resources to do it alone," Tory said at the time. He added the municipality is working under an Aug. 9 deadline to find a solution before students return to Centennial College and Humber Colleges, two campuses that contributed 800 emergency contingency shelter spaces while dormitories were empty during summer.
Ontario cabinet minister says feds should 'know better'
The federal government has so far pledged an initial $173 million to increase border security and an additional $50 million to help three provinces (Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba) with immediate housing costs to accommodate asylum seekers.
Of that $50 million, $36 million has been earmarked for Quebec; $3 million for Manitoba; and $11 million for Ontario. It has yet to be confirmed how much of the $11 million will be allocated for Toronto.
Ontario cabinet minister Lisa MacLeod, who's been tapped to lead the province's immigration file, denied reports last week that the province is pulling co-operation with the federal government on the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement signed in November.
"There are very clear rules. There are illegal ports of entry for those seeking asylum against persecution. We will always welcome people who follow that process," MacLeod said in a news conference.
"It's disturbing that the prime minister and others are deliberately confusing these legitimate refugees with these illegal border crossers. Frankly, they know better," she said.
Calling asylum seekers "illegal border crossers," MacLeod said refugee claims are supposed to be processed within 60 days, but a backlog has pushed that timeframe to two years.
Having refugee claimants in temporary housing for an extended period of time strains provincial resources and threatens "the services that Ontario families depend upon," she said.
Tories and NDP want emergency meeting
Frustration is also building at the federal level with both the Conservatives and NDP pressing the government Wednesday to hold an emergency committee meeting to address the swell of asylum seekers crossing irregularly over the Canada-U.S. border.
NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan criticized the government for being slow to condemn U.S. President Donald Trump's "anti-immigrant and racist policies," which she suggested is bringing a summer rush of asylum seekers to the Canadian border.
In a statement, Kwan accused the Liberal government of dragging its heels and took a swipe at the Conservatives' tact on the issue, which she likened to taking a "page from Trump" to "shut down the border to asylum seekers."
Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said the federal government's response so far has been limited to spend "hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on temporary, band-aid solutions."
Stretching Canada's immigration system without "concrete policy solutions" will undermine its integrity, she said in a statement.
"The time to act is now, before this situation gets any worse. We know that shelters are at capacity, and deadlines at university dormitories are looming."
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