OTTAWA — Ontario is renewing its demand that the federal government foot the entire bill for services provided to thousands of irregular border crossers who are seeking asylum in the province.
Lisa MacLeod, Ontario's minister of children, community and social services, says that bill amounts to $200 million so far.
That sum includes $74 million for temporary housing in Toronto, $90 million in social assistance and $20 million for school spaces for the children of refugee claimants. Quebec has also asked the federal government for financial aid totalling $146 million.
MacLeod called the influx of asylum seekers a "crisis at the border" that Ontario's Conservative government under Premier Doug Ford considers a federal responsibility. The province should not have to pay for a situation it did not create, she said.
"It appears this is quickly becoming a half-a-billion crisis for the federal government," MacLeod told a news conference Monday across from Parliament Hill.
"That's a lot of money, so I think the federal government really has to consider whether or not they're going to help compensate us and make us whole, but in addition how they're going to fix their broken system."
MacLeod's comments followed a teleconference Monday among members of the so-called ad hoc intergovernmental task force on irregular migration, which has undergone a change in leadership.
Former committee chair Marc Garneau, the federal transport minister, has been succeeded by Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, while Border Security Minister Bill Blair is replacing Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen on the task force.
MacLeod, who clashed with Hussen last month after he called her hardline perspective on the issue "dangerous" and "un-Canadian," admitted some satisfaction that he's no longer on the task force. She said she's had a more constructive relationship with Blair to date.
"I just feel it became more a matter of rhetoric — who's Canadian, who's not, 'irregular,' 'illegal' — the words around that became far more important than actually fixing the problem," she said, calling Hussen's comments "divisive rhetoric."
At a news conference of his own Monday, Blair defended Hussen's work on the file, saying the immigration minister has made "significant progress."
As for Ontario's $200-million ask, it will be the focus of a meeting later this week between Blair and MacLeod "to clearly identify some of the extraordinary expenses that Ontario may have experienced and how the government might appropriately address those," he said.
"I fully expect that we will be able to build upon that excellent work that (Hussen) has done to date. We know that there are issues that still need to be resolved. We look forward to the opportunity to continue to work collaboratively with Quebec and Ontario."
Blair said he disagreed with MacLeod's assertion that the situation is a crisis.
"Frankly, a crisis is a situation that is not being managed. And I've had the opportunity to go and look at how this is being managed. The capacity issues have all been addressed. The safety and security of the country is being maintained," he said.
"Certainly there are opportunities to continue to improve and build upon the work that has been done in the past, but in my experience, this could not be in any way be described as a crisis."
The federal government has paid $11 million to the city of Toronto a promise of more money to come, but MacLeod stressed Monday this amount is not even close to the costs Ontario has incurred as a result of the influx of irregular migrants over the last year and a half.
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Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press