Ontario’s government has a sort of parental relationship to Toronto’s. It is the senior level of authority and, as such, it has a responsibility to help the junior one in times of urgent need.
Well, this is a time of urgent need. Toronto finds itself struggling with a wave of refugee claimants. Its shelter system is overflowing with them. It needs tens of millions of dollars to meet the challenge.
Ontario should be rushing to help, just as it would after an ice storm or a flood. Instead, the new Doug Ford government is exploiting Toronto’s migrant crisis to score cheap political points against Ottawa. In a strikingly mean-spirited statement this week, it said “this mess was 100 per cent the result of the federal government,” which “encouraged illegal border crossers to come into our country.”
The tone was distinctly Trumpian. Just as Donald Trump blames Barack Obama and the Democrats for the flow of migrants across the southern border, the Ford government blames Justin Trudeau and the Liberals for the flow of migrants who are crossing into Quebec from the United States, many of them ending up down the road in Toronto. Notice, too, the reference to “illegal border crossers,” a phrase guaranteed to stir up those who think shiftless foreigners are using Canada as a doormat. If this was a dog whistle, everyone can hear it.
Ontario says that the federal government “continues to usher people across the U.S.-Quebec border into Ontario,” as if Ottawa were acting like a hotel concierge. What would it have the feds do: put up a wall? The migrants are avoiding official border crossings and coming in at unguarded spots. Once they are on Canadian soil, the government cannot simply toss them back. The international rules on this are clear. If the arrivals are claiming they were persecuted where they came from, the government must first assess that claim. As Mr. Trudeau said after meeting with Mr. Ford, Ontario’s new Premier does not seem to grasp this well-known fact.
After Mr. Trudeau said that, an Ontario cabinet minister, Lisa MacLeod, emerged to call the comment “disrespectful.” In fact, Mr. Trudeau’s response was mild considering that Ontario had just pulled out of a co-ordinated, three-level effort to address the migrant problem. Toronto Mayor John Tory was subdued, too. He said only that “the province has made its initial position clear.” He clearly hopes Ontario will see sense and agree to help.
Let’s hope that he is right. Toronto is in a real fix. More than 3,000 of the migrants are now in Toronto, crowding an already-strained shelter system. As Mr. Tory notes, this number includes 800 people, many of them children, who will need a new place to go in a few weeks after the college dormitories where they have been staying fill up with students again.
Before Mr. Ford took office, a plan was coming together to follow what is being done in Quebec and set up a triage system for would-be refugees, steering many to towns and cities outside of Toronto. Now that the Ford government is washing its hands of the problem, everything is up in the air. That’s a shame, in more ways than one.
The problem of these recent migrants is a thorny one. They have been arriving from the United States instead of overseas and coming across the border in considerable numbers. Canada has to treat them fairly, legally and compassionately without at the same time making itself a magnet for those who simply want a better life in a new country and hope a refugee claim will help them get in.
It is a conundrum that governments in Europe know well. But Canada’s problem is much smaller and more manageable. About 20,000 asylum seekers were stopped at the border last year, another 9,000 plus so far this year. That is a trickle compared with the numbers that have arrived in Europe or the United States. More than 1.6 million asylum seekers have entered Germany since 2014.
Canada is a rich country with a recent tradition of welcoming immigrants and giving shelter to refugees. Canadian governments should be able to handle this problem if they work together. The last thing we need is for one of them to stamp its foot, pick up its ball and go home.