Lisa MacLeod 'glad' Ahmed Hussen off border task force
OTTAWA -- Ontario's minister of social services says she's encouraged federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen is no longer on a special task force dealing with border crossers, following a dispute between the two.
Ontario cabinet minister Lisa MacLeod says replacing Hussen on the ad hoc intergovernmental task force on irregular migration is a move in the right direction. MacLeod and Hussen seemed to get off to a rough start shortly after the Ontario election when MacLeod expressed anger over how Hussen characterized the new government's language around those who cross the border between official points of entry.
"I just feel that it became more of a matter of rhetoric and who's Canadian, who's not; irregular, illegal," MacLeod told reporters at a press conference in Ottawa. "The words around that became far more important than actually fixing the problem."
"I do think that the federal government started off on the wrong foot with our new administration with some of the stunts by the minister of immigration, so I'm glad to see that he's been removed."
MacLeod says she's already had "a wonderful chat" with newly named Border Security Minister Bill Blair, and that they could each understand the other's point of view, "rather than the sort of divisive rhetoric that was happening."
"I feel we could be in a far more positive place than we were immediately, so I think that this was a recognition of that," MacLeod said.
Hussen will no longer sit on the task force, and federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc will take over from Transport Minister Marc Garneau as its chair.
MacLeod held the press conference in Ottawa to call on the federal government to increase its funding to Ontario to deal with an influx of asylum seekers crossing the border irregularly. The federal government announced $11 million in funding last week for the city of Toronto, but MacLeod estimates the issue has already cost Ontario $200 million.
Both Blair and MacLeod say they expect to meet in person later this week.
Hussen last month called Ontario Premier Doug Ford's language around the asylum claimants "divisive" and "fear-mongering." MacLeod walked out of a federal-provincial meeting in Winnipeg and said she thought Hussen was trying to intimidate her.
Hussen objected to Ford and his government referring to the asylum claimants as "illegal border crossers."
MacLeod says it's up to the federal government to pay for its "failed policies," though she mostly declined to recommend a solution. She referred to the backlog in processing asylum claims and noted it could take up to two years rather than the government's goal of 60 days.
Ontario's costs so far, she said, include:
- $90 million in social assistance
- $74 million for temporary housing in Toronto
- $20 million for primary and secondary education spaces
- $12 million for housing in Ottawa
- $3 million for Red Cross and other supports for refugee claimants who stayed in college dorms this summer.
MacLeod said Quebec Immigration Minister David Heurtel put the cost to his province at $146 million.
Speaking in Toronto, Blair said Hussen had done excellent work on the file and said it's important to acknowledge how much progress has been made.
"Mr. Hussen has been working diligently on this file as part of that task force and also in his responsibilities as minister of immigration," Blair said.
"There's been a tremendous amount of work done, and much of that work has been done collaboratively with all three levels of government. And so it's part of an ongoing discussion."
Hussen's spokesman pointed CTV News to Blair's comments, but said Hussen and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale "will continue to support the work of the committee and work in close collaboration with Minister Blair, but will not continue as formal members of the taskforce."
Blair said Ontario has a significant role to play in dealing with the influx of asylum seekers.
"We're in the process of establishing a triage system that will enable us to more appropriately direct asylum seekers into communities where they can be properly housed and supported," Blair said, noting part of the task force's discussion is about all three levels of government -- the cities, provinces and federal government -- working together.
This story has been updated to correct the amount of federal funding pledged to the government of Ontario.