Doug Ford says the federal government has yet to give Ontario any money to help resettle asylum seekers as costs have soared past $130-million, reprimanding Ottawa during his first meeting as Premier with Toronto Mayor John Tory.
The two former political rivals spoke on Monday afternoon for about an hour about rising gun crime in Canada’s largest city and what both have warned is a looming crisis in Toronto’s shelter system following Mr. Ford’s announcement last week that his government will no longer provide aid for refugee claimants. Mr. Ford stressed that he expects the federal government to pick up the tab for dealing with the asylum seekers.
“We need funding and we need help from the federal government. They created this mess and we’re expecting them to pitch in and help,” Mr. Ford told reporters during the meeting in his office at Queen’s Park. “We have the province and city spending a fortune and the person who created this mess, we haven’t seen any funding, hopefully it’s coming, I hear it’s coming, but we’ll wait and see.”
Toronto’s municipal budget has been strained by the $72-million spent on the asylum seekers so far, while the province has spent a further $60-million on social assistance and legal aid, according to Mr. Ford’s office.
Before his first meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week, the Premier criticized the federal government for creating a “mess” of Canada’s borders. Ottawa has set aside $11-million to help Ontario with the costs, but the money has yet to flow into provincial coffers.
Mr. Tory said at the start of the meeting on Monday that he is “absolutely confident” he can work with Mr. Ford. The Premier, who stood in for his ailing brother Rob in the 2014 mayoral election, lost to Mr. Tory then but had been mulling a second run for mayor before he captured the provincial Progressive Conservative party leadership.
Toronto city officials have been in discussions with counterparts at other Ontario cities and with federal officials, as an Aug. 9 deadline looms for the approximately 800 refugee claimants now housed in two Toronto college dorms that must be cleared before classes return.
Mr. Tory, who met with the Prime Minister last week, has said that his city’s shelter system could no longer accommodate the flow of asylum seekers, many of whom arrive in Toronto after crossing from the United States into Quebec. City officials say most are from Nigeria.
More than 3,000 refugee claimants are currently housed in Toronto’s shelter system, most in rented hotel rooms and in the borrowed residences at Humber and Centennial colleges. According to city numbers, refugee claimants now take up more than 40 per cent of the city’s shelter spaces.
For months, Mr. Tory has been demanding help and cash from the provincial and federal governments to recoup the millions spent so far, although his efforts were focused on Ottawa.
Provincial, federal and city officials had been devising a system that would have seen the province take on a co-ordinating role in diverting refugee claimants to other cities with more shelter space. Talks stalled during the provincial election campaign. Then Mr. Ford said he had no intention of getting involved in the refugee process.
On CBC Radio One on Monday morning, Mr. Tory said he had not given up on convincing Mr. Ford to help. He said the province should play some sort of co-ordinating role, short of providing cash, as it is in the best position to provide information about other communities across Ontario where refugee claimants could find jobs or shelter.
Last Friday, after a conference call with Mr. Tory, a group of mayors of other Ontario cities said they were committed to helping Toronto. The mayors pledged to find housing and job opportunities for refugee claimants.
Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen was non-committal about additional funding for Ontario on Monday, but he objected to the language of “illegal border crossers” used by the new provincial government to describe people claiming refugee status. He told a news conference in Halifax that he was “very concerned” by the Ford government’s choice of language.
Taking questions from reporters on Tuesday morning, Mr. Tory said he still believes the province could play an important information-sharing role as Toronto officials and the federal government scramble to divert refugee claimants from his city to other communities – and that he presented this idea to Mr. Ford at their Monday meeting.
“When I made that suggestion, he did not reject that at all. So I treat that as a matter that is still under discussion,” Mr. Tory said.
The mayor said that Ontario officials could provide access to a “storehouse of information” on shelter, housing and jobs in other cities across the province, while still maintaining their stand on making Ottawa pay all of the costs. Mr. Tory also noted that he and Premier largely agree that the federal government is the one who should be footing the bill.
With files from The Canadian Press