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Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks in Windsor, Ont., on Oct. 18.Geoff Robins/The Canadian Press

Ontario premier Doug Ford is refusing to apologize for remarks his critics say implied that some immigrants come to the province only to collect social assistance.

The opposition at Queen’s Park has seized on the remarks, made at a media conference this week in Tecumseh, Ont., near Windsor, where the Premier said Ontario needed more immigrants to deal with a labour shortage.

“You come here like every other new Canadian has come here, you work your tail off,” Mr. Ford said. “If you think you’re coming to collect the dole and sit around, not going to happen. Go somewhere else. You want to work, come here.”

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Asked to apologize in Question Period by NDP MPP Doly Begum for suggesting some immigrants arrive aiming only to collect social assistance, Mr. Ford refused to back down. (Newly arriving immigrants are actually ineligible for the province’s Ontario Works social-assistance program until they have permanent residency status, which can take years.)

The Premier told the Legislature he had been “pro-immigration from Day 1,″ and pointed to the multicultural crowds at the once-annual Ford Fest events held by him and his late brother Rob Ford when Rob was Toronto’s mayor.

Mr. Ford said he had written the Prime Minister asking for more immigrants to fill what he said were 290,000 vacant jobs, and also said the opposition had voted against his government’s moves meant to get more affordable housing and highways built, and to fund new public transit.

Ms. Begum also asked the Premier what he would do to help the thousands of immigrants trained as doctors and nurses, or for other professions, who have been unable to work in their chosen fields in Ontario because of barriers that keep their credentials from being recognized here.

But Mr. Ford deflected the question, telling the Legislature his phone has been “blowing up” with messages from immigrants who came to Ontario, worked hard and succeeded.

“They told me story after story last night. One story how their parents came over, their father worked in a gold mine to put him through school, for university. Another person told me a story about his first job as a dishwasher. But guess what, Mr. Speaker, he owns his own restaurant now,” Mr. Ford said.

Debbie Douglas, executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, condemned the remarks as “xenophobic.” She said they reflect the unfounded belief that immigrants, refugees and migrant workers are somehow coming to take advantage of Ontario’s social safety net. She added that immigrant workers, particularly Black women, have played key roles in the pandemic, including in the food industry and long-term care.

“His comments landed as racist rhetoric,” she said. “My sense is that the Premier is truly not understanding why it is that communities, and the diversity of communities, are responding the way they are.”

Fareed Khan, founder of an advocacy group called Canadians United Against Hate, called Mr. Ford’s comments “unacceptable and dangerous,” and said the Premier needs to apologize.

“It is not only offensive, but it feeds into racist tropes about immigrants and gives ammunition to those who trade in the ideology of hate and racism,” he said in statement.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Mr. Ford’s comments were “abhorrent” and “racist” and that his Progressive Conservative Party has used “dog-whistle politics” in the past to send signals to supporters with intolerant views.

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca told reporters that Mr. Ford’s comments about immigrants were “very outdated” and “divisive” and that the Premier should drop his “stubbornness” and apologize.

He said he wanted to believe the Premier was not sending a “coded signal” to potential racist or anti-immigrant supporters, but that his remarks were hurtful to thousands of immigrants for implying that they did not wish to work hard.

“I’d encourage Doug: Get out of the bubble, get out of the 1950s, take a look at modern Ontario. Be comfortable with it, support it, and let’s move forward,” Mr. Del Duca said.

Speaking at an announcement in Toronto earlier on Tuesday, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said an apology wasn’t necessary.

“What the Premier was actually saying is that we need more immigrants in Ontario,” she said. “We have lots of work.”

Asked if Mr. Ford’s comments were offensive, Nina Tangri, his associate minister of small business and red tape reduction, and an immigrant herself, said she was proud of the Premier and proud to be part of a government that wants to increase immigration.

“I believe that the Premier was very clear when he said that we desperately need more people to come to Ontario,” she said.

Mr. Ford has a history of gaffes and refusing to apologize for mistakes. Early in his term as Premier, he refused for three days to condemn Faith Goldy, a white supremacist candidate for mayor of Toronto with whom he had posed for a photograph. This year, he refused to apologize for telling the Legislature that listening to Ms. Horwath was akin to “nails on a chalkboard,” a remark many considered sexist.

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