Quebec presses PM to cover refugee cost
Premier wants flood outlets fast-tracked
MONTREAL — Premier Brian Pallister is facing down opposition to his push to have Ottawa fast-track Interlake flood-prevention channels, a topic he raised in meetings Friday with all 13 premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
In a discussion about regulations and red tape, Pallister brought up the Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin flood channels, which Ottawa supports but has flagged for a thorough environmental review.
Pallister has warned that reform of reviews of that kind could delay the project.
Bill C-69 aims to clarify the scope of reviews and include the role of Indigenous communities.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said Ottawa will consider amending this legislation, even though it’s already being debated by the Senate.
“The commitment we have today is that the federal government will work with the provinces, as they move forward with that regulatory framework. We look forward to that, and that is new.”
Among those raising concerns about the $540-million outlet channels is Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand, who took part in an early Friday meeting between Trudeau and Indigenous leaders, which the premiers later joined.
Ottawa has invited the federation to weigh in on the case. Chartrand said he plans to raise the problem of zebra mussels and competing fish species flowing through those outlet channels, and the chance this will devastate Métis settlements that rely on fishing for food and their income.
“If we don’t do a proper study, are we going to try and fix it 20 years later, and find out we’ve caused so much eco-damage that we can’t reverse it? There’s too many unknowns,” he said. “We need proper consultation.”
Meanwhile, Chartrand said he is trying to get premiers on board for what he said will be a construction bonanza, thanks to federal dollars to build homes, daycares and schools in Métis settlements. He said premiers from British Columbia and Saskatchewan expressed an interest, but Pallister did not.
“It’s good for Manitoba, it’s good for me; we’re going to be paying taxes,” he said. “We’re bringing to you a gold platter full of goodies. And you’re not even opening the door to let us bring it in.” MONTREAL — Quebec Premier François 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 offered to cover only the cost of lodging the asylum seekers — about half of what Quebec wanted.
“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 wouldbe 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 Dubé 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 Québécois said Ottawa should be compensating Quebec rather than helping Alberta buy railcars 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 announced plans this week 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 cooperation to curtail immigration in the other two categories, and Trudeau has already raised concerns about Quebec’s plan.
Under a 1991 agreement between Quebec and the federal government, the province is guaranteed 25 per cent of the total money Ottawa transfers to the provinces for immigration settlement.
Despite its planned reductions, Quebec is set to receive about $550 million in 2019 — up from about $490 million in 2018.