Brian Pallister stresses need for asylum seeker aid amidst health deal clash

While Manitoba and Ottawa continue to fight it out over a new health deal, Premier Brian Pallister hopes those negotiations won't taint the federal government's willingness to help the province handle an influx of asylum seekers seeking refuge across its borders.

"That would be a most unfortunate linkage," he told host Terry Milewski on CBC Radio's The House, when asked whether holding out on the health care deal could jeopardize federal assistance for dealing with the border issue.

The Prairie province remains the only jurisdiction that hasn't signed on to the 10-year health accord. Pallister said the overall transfer increase being offered is not enough to keep up with the rising cost of health care and has continuously asked for more money to deal with health-care issues in Indigenous communities.

At the same time Pallister has been asking for an extension to the cost-sharing agreement between the province and the federal government for legal aid services, which is set to expire at the end of the month.

In a letter obtained by CBC News dated Feb. 21, the premier wrote that the rising number of refugee claimants entering Manitoba is having a significant impact in a number of areas — in particular, on the caseloads of Legal Aid Manitoba, which provides legal assistance from the initiation of the refugee claim to the completion of the process.

According to federal officials who briefed reporters earlier this month, between Jan. 1 and Feb. 21 this year there were 94 illegal crossings in Manitoba, 51 in British Columbia and 290 illegal crossings in Quebec, totalling 435.

In the same regions in 2016, there were a total of 2,464 illegal crossings in which people were apprehended by the RCMP.

Several dozen more migrants have crossed into Manitoba illegally since the January-February figures were released.

"If people are going to try and negotiate us into a bad deal on health care, that gives up on trying to find benefits for Indigenous people that need primary care, by saying they're not going to help on a refugee case, let's look at each case on its own merits.

"I'm not banging a tin cup, I'm asking for fairness," Pallister said.

Pallister said of the migrant situation that it's "fortunate that someone has not died… If people are hurt and die as a consequence of neglect we'll all wear that. I'm simply asking for a better partnership then has been evidence so far."

Research facility 'threat' off the table 

Earlier this week Pallister claimed the government threatened to kill a multimillion-dollar tech research facility if the province continues to hold out on the health accord.

​"We probably are a rounding error in the federal budget, I recognize that. But we're also deserving of respect and deserving to be heard. Those discussions are continuing and I think they'll progress much better now that that threat has  theoretically at least been lifted by the federal government negotiators,"  he said in an interview airing Saturday.

Manitoba MP Jim Carr, the country's natural resources minister, wouldn't say if the legal aid money was secured, but said the government "will be there for the people when they need us."

"I believe the government of Canada is in a very strong position to respond as necessary," he said.