December 6, 2019

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Ottawa delivers $5M to offset Manitoba costs for asylum-seekers

The federal Liberals announced late Tuesday $5 million in compensation for the Manitoba government to offset the cost of housing the approximately 1,000 people who crossed into Canada near Emerson since 2017 to claim refugee status. (John Woods / Canadian Press files)</p>

The federal Liberals announced late Tuesday $5 million in compensation for the Manitoba government to offset the cost of housing the approximately 1,000 people who crossed into Canada near Emerson since 2017 to claim refugee status. (John Woods / Canadian Press files)

OTTAWA — The federal Liberals say they will only pay one-third of the costs the Manitoba government has identified for border-crossing asylum-seekers.

"(Both governments) made a determination of how much the appropriate level of support was, and that money has now been provided," Border Security Minister Bill Blair told the Free Press.

He was speaking Wednesday, after a last-minute injection of $5 million on the eve of Manitoba’s election blackout.

That money is meant to offset the cost of housing the approximately 1,000 people who crossed into Canada near Emerson since 2017 to claim refugee status.

It’s a top-up to the $3 million it provided Manitoba a year ago — but nowhere near what Premier Brian Pallister asked for in early 2018.

In February, the Free Press revealed the Pallister government pegged its costs since 2017 at $17 million for housing, welfare, education, legal aid and child welfare.

The premier’s office asked Ottawa "to fully compensate affected provinces" for costs that aren’t already borne by the federal government, which include asylum-seekers’ health care and some official-language training.

Rita Chahal, head of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, said the Pallister government stepped up to the surge of arrivals by earmarking funds and helping various settlement groups work together.

"They listened to what they suggested needed to be done. In fact, we ended up making sure that no one fell through the cracks; everyone had a place to stay," she said in an interview.

"There are strains; there were waiting periods and lines. But I think we're starting to normalize that a bit more, now that we’ve got processes in place."

Chahal said Manitoba could follow other provinces in allocating refugee housing in its annual budget, but said the government has given "significant amounts" to the issue.

She said Ottawa ought to step up funding for legal aid, which helps newcomers to navigate bureaucracy, as well as housing.

"There needs to be more investment into refugee-claimant services from the federal government," said Chahal.

Tuesday’s funding announcement came a year after the previous one, and on the eve of the start of a 90-day pre-election communications blackout in Manitoba. The Pallister government issued its news release shortly before 9 p.m.

The Liberals earmarked $100 million for all provinces in January, following a $50-million payment last June.

Manitoba got a combined $8 million from those allocations. It's a calculation based on the number of people entering in those provinces, who require interim housing, Blair said.

More than 40,000 asylum-seekers have crossed on foot from the United States since 2017. As 1,000 entered Manitoba, the province would only be receiving $3.75 million, not $8 million, if these allocations were strictly weighted by the number of crossings.

Tory immigration critic Larry Maguire said he was concerned Manitoba isn’t getting more cash.

"It's not a fair accounting; there's no doubt about that. They haven't even given Manitoba half of what they requested," said Maguire, the MP for Brandon-Souris, arguing Ottawa must pay for more than just housing.

The trend of claimants entering Manitoba on foot from the United States crested in March 2017, when 170 people entered the province near Emerson. This April, just 15 made that crossing.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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Updated on Wednesday, June 12, 2019 at 6:17 PM CDT: Final version

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