Ontario should welcome asylum seekers with open arms, Andrea Horwath writes
Alan Kurdi was 3 years old when he was found face down on a Mediterranean beach in September 2015, drowned at sea during his family’s escape from war-torn Syria.
The devastating image of Alan’s tiny body on the beach reminded us all that the families caught in the refugee crisis are just like our families. The children who are starving, terrified and in grave danger are just that: children.
But last week, without warning, Doug Ford and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod announced that the Ontario government is done helping families like Alan’s, and they will no longer help municipalities cope with rising numbers of refugees and asylum seekers.
Ford and MacLeod are in the wrong. It’s that simple. They’re wrong to want to turn families and children fleeing war away. And they’re wrong to leave Ontario municipalities to cover the costs alone.
Estimates indicate that the price tag for municipalities to support asylum seekers will be about $100 million — less than one-tenth of 1 per cent of total spending in the 2018 provincial budget. Both the federal and provincial governments promised to help with that cost — but Ford has backed out.
In Quebec, where most asylum seekers arriving in Canada have landed, the provincial government works closely with local governments and businesses to get applicants working as soon as possible, making them self-sufficient. And in small communities that need more workers, the arrivals have meant a much-needed boost to the labour pools.
Here in Ontario, while some cities’ newcomer supports are being overwhelmed, other communities are desperate for new settlers to rebuild shrinking local populations and staff up industries that struggle to find workers. This is especially true in the north, where a tone-deaf Ford told local municipal leaders we must “take care of our own” when asked how he would attract new immigrants.
Doug Ford’s change won’t stop a single refugee from arriving in our great province. What it will do is force Ontario cities to shoulder the costs of housing them. If municipalities don’t support true refugees with the very basics — like a shelter bed — they’ll pay higher health and social costs now and down the road, from emergency room costs to the social and financial costs of homelessness.
This issue goes far beyond economic impact and settlement costs.
Ignoring the fact that most asylum seekers and newcomers are not breaking any laws, Ford and MacLeod have dangerously taken to labelling them “illegals” — reinforcing the hateful rhetoric burning like wildfire across the United States. In doing so, they are stoking the fires of division here in Canada.
They’re telling children — little ones just like Alan Kurdi — that some lives are less legitimate than others.
That’s wrong, and it has got to stop.
Every Ontarian should be calling on Doug Ford to cut out this dangerous, hateful rhetoric, and to reverse this harmful policy change.
Together, we can build a province where those who call Ontario home all feel welcome and safe, and where families can build a great life.
Andrea Horwath is Leader of the Official Opposition and Leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party.