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Veronika, 13, and Monika, 17, pose for a portrait in the Scarborough bedroom they share, Tuesday, July 22, 2014. The sisters, who moved from Croatia last year, have both recently needed medical attention, and their family was forced to pay for an emergency room visit when Veronika contracted the flu. (Galit Rodan for the Globe and Mail)

Galit Rodan/The Globe and Mail

Just as it's not generally a wise idea to prevent sick people from receiving health care, so also it's not a good idea to refuse welfare to the penniless or unable to work. That's why welfare exists.

The Conservative government is keen on creating disincentives to stay in Canada for some refugee claimants – so much so, that the latest omnibus budget bill has buried in it a section designed to encourage provincial governments to deny welfare payments to at least some of those people.

This week, the citizenship and immigration committee is studying this part of the omnibus bill. The federal-provincial agreement on the Canada Social Transfer – federal money that helps provinces pay for services such as welfare – currently says that provinces cannot impose a waiting period on welfare recipients who move from another province, or who are qualified for welfare and arrive from another country. That includes refugees and refugee claimants.

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Now, Ottawa wants to specify that only citizens, permanent residents, victims of human trafficking and refugee claimants whose cases are in process and have been granted protected-person status must be able to receive social assistance. Provinces would now have the power to refuse to give social assistance to others, and they wouldn't be financially penalized by Ottawa. No province has said that it wants this power. In fact, the Ontario government strongly disagreed when a federal bureaucrat this week suggested that the new rules flowed from its requests.

The move to change the law is petty and mean-spirited, and comes on the heels of a Federal Court decision in which a judge held that the government's attempt to restrict medical services to some refugees was "cruel and unusual treatment." In this latest case, the government has taken what was once a private member's bill and buried it in the omnibus bill. The whole point of omnibus bills is to avoid scrutiny and intelligent analysis. But if this change is necessary, if it is really such a good idea, then why not present the case and defend it fully, and let Parliament – and Canadians – decide?

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