QUE­BEC WANTS OT­TAWA TO PAY UP

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE -

Que­bec Premier Fran­cois Le­gault said he made progress dur­ing Fri­day’s first min­is­ters’ meet­ing on his de­mand that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment pay $300 mil­lion in com­pen­sa­tion to cover the cost of refugees ar­riv­ing in the prov­ince.

Le­gault said Ot­tawa had pre­vi­ously of­fered to cover only the cost of lodg­ing the asy­lum seek­ers — about half of what Que­bec was seek­ing.

“This af­ter­noon they have moved for­ward a lit­tle more to say they are ready to look at other ex­penses be­sides lodg­ing,’’ Le­gault told re­porters at the end of the meet­ing. “We will have dis­cus­sions with the bills be­tween min­is­ters and bu­reau­crats to get as close as pos­si­ble to $300 mil­lion. It is a lot of money.’’

Since 2017, there has been an in­flux of asy­lum seek­ers en­ter­ing Que­bec across the United States border. Le­gault said it takes more than 18 months for would-be refugees to find out if they can re­main in the coun­try.

In the mean­time, Que­bec pays for their hous­ing, ed­u­ca­tion and health care costs, which have to­talled roughly $300 mil­lion over two years, Le­gault said. He said Ot­tawa is re­spon­si­ble for the lengthy delays in the sys­tem.

“I ex­pect Mr. Trudeau to com­pen­sate us,’’ he said be­fore meet­ing the prime minister and his fel­low premiers.

“It’s un­ac­cept­able for it to take 18 months be­fore (asy­lum seek­ers) get an an­swer. And in the ma­jor­ity of cases, they are re­fused, be­cause they can­not prove that their life is in dan­ger.’’

Fed­eral au­thor­i­ties pro­cessed 24,745 asy­lum claims made in Que­bec in 2017 — five times more than the pre­vi­ous year. The pace has con­tin­ued this year, with 23,595 claimants in Que­bec pro­cessed through the end of Oc­to­ber.

The prov­ince re­ceives more than half of all asy­lum claims in Canada, in­clud­ing the vast ma­jor­ity of those en­ter­ing through non-of­fi­cial border cross­ings.

Le­gault said it is Ot­tawa’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to pay for the di­rect costs of asy­lum seek­ers.

In Ot­tawa, op­po­si­tion mem­bers rep­re­sent­ing Que­bec rid­ings called on the Trudeau gov­ern­ment to agree to Le­gault’s re­quest.

“The re­quest is to­tally ap­pro­pri­ate, and I hope that the gov­ern­ment is go­ing be at­ten­tive to this re­quest,’’ New Demo­crat MP Matthew Dube said.

Con­ser­va­tive MP Pierre Paul-Hus said Que­bec should not be left with the bill for what he called “the mis­takes and the fail­ures of the prime minister.’’

Gabriel Ste-Marie of the Bloc Que­be­cois said Ot­tawa should be com­pen­sat­ing Que­bec rather than help­ing Al­berta buy rail cars to ship oil, some­thing Trudeau has said he would con­sider.

“The cri­sis is be­ing badly man­aged by Ot­tawa,’’ he said. “It’s Que­bec that is left with the bill.’’

The is­sue of com­pen­sa­tion for refugee costs is part of larger ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Ot­tawa and Que­bec over im­mi­gra­tion.

The Le­gault gov­ern­ment this week an­nounced plans to re­duce an­nual im­mi­gra­tion to the prov­ince by 20 per cent start­ing next year. The prov­ince wants to re­duce all three types of im­mi­gra­tion: eco­nomic, fam­ily re­uni­fi­ca­tion and refugees.

It only con­trols eco­nomic im­mi­gra­tion, how­ever, so it needs Ot­tawa’s co-op­er­a­tion to cur­tail im­mi­gra­tion in the other two cat­e­gories. And Trudeau has al­ready raised con­cerns about Que­bec’s plan.

CP PHOTO

Que­bec Premier Fran­cois Le­gault speaks to the me­dia at the First Min­is­ters con­fer­ence, Fri­day.

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