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Federal minister 'sets the facts straight' after Quebec complains it isn't getting enough funding for asylum seekers

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Quebec lieutenant, Pablo Rodriguez, disputed the Quebec government's claim that 55 per cent of asylum seekers who stayed in Canada remained in the province. (Charles Contant/CBC  - image credit)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Quebec lieutenant, Pablo Rodriguez, disputed the Quebec government's claim that 55 per cent of asylum seekers who stayed in Canada remained in the province. (Charles Contant/CBC - image credit)

The prime minister's Quebec lieutenant, Pablo Rodriguez, is pushing back on the Quebec government saying Ottawa has been "passive" about the financial support needed to welcome asylum seekers putting down roots in the province.

Rodriguez, who is also Canada's transport minister, said he wanted to "set the facts straight" about Ottawa's contributions after Quebec ministers held a news conference Tuesday, asking the federal government to pay $1 billion — the amount they claim is "owed" for the province taking in thousands of asylum seekers in the past three years.

The Quebec government is also asking Ottawa to relocate asylum seekers more equitably throughout Canada and to slow their entry in the country by tightening Canadian visa policies.

"We are ready to sit down and look at the amounts requested, but do not come and say that there are no contributions from Ottawa," Rodriguez said at a news conference in Montreal Thursday. "Quebec is claiming those amounts and those elements need to be discussed around a table."

Quebec Family Minister Suzanne Roy told reporters earlier on Thursday that Ottawa "isn't doing its fair share" to cover the costs of receiving asylum seekers.

Rodriguez said that provincial deputy ministers and their federal counterparts meet regularly to discuss funding for asylum seekers, contrary to what the Quebec immigration, education, Canada relations and social solidarity ministers suggested.

He pointed to the Canada-Quebec Accord, through which the federal government has granted $4.4 billion to the province since 2015 and the $440.9 million transferred through the Interim Housing Assistance Program since 2017 to address asylum seekers' housing needs.

Quebec can expect to receive a total of $775.1 million for the fiscal year 2023-2024, which includes an indexation payment of $48.3 million.

But Quebec Premier François Legault disagrees, saying Rodriguez is mixing up amounts because the $775.1 million is for "regular immigrants."

Earlier Thursday morning, Legault called on the federal government to require visas for Mexican travellers because of the number of asylum seekers entering Quebec from the airport.

Quebec Premier François Legault is calling on the federal government to reimburse the province for costs related to receiving asylum seekers.
Quebec Premier François Legault is calling on the federal government to reimburse the province for costs related to receiving asylum seekers.

Quebec Premier François Legault is calling on the federal government to reimburse the province for costs related to receiving asylum seekers. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada)

He said the federal government "has the power to act" and that he would meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the coming weeks.

Rodriguez took issue with the Quebec government claim that 55 per cent of asylum seekers who stayed in Canada remained in the province, saying that percentage represents the portion of asylum seekers who entered Quebec. (The Quebec government is saying that 160,651 people out of 289,047 asylum seekers residing in Canada as of Dec. 31 live in Quebec.)

"There are one in four asylum seekers who leave," he said. Asked how many migrants live in Quebec, however, Rodriguez said he "could not tell you."

Last year, 65,570 asylum seekers entered Quebec, according to a spokesperson for the Immigration Ministry.

Rodriguez 'deeply concerned' about daycare court challenge

Another announcement giving Rodriguez pause is the province's plan to challenge a Court of Appeal ruling allowing asylum seekers access to subsidized daycare.

Wednesday, Quebec requested a stay of that Appeal Court ruling, with the aim of enforcing a ban until the Supreme Court of Canada renders a judgment.

"When you create two categories of children — those who have the right and those who don't have the right — I feel deeply concerned," Rodriguez said, adding that supporting asylum seekers is an "investment in Quebec's future."

Asylum seekers are eligible for subsidized daycare if they have a valid work permit until a decision on the stay is made, Quebec Family Minister Suzanne Roy confirmed.

She repeated that anyone living in Quebec can find childcare in the private sector, where higher costs are offset by tax breaks from the provincial and federal governments.

According to the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity, there was an increase of almost 27 per cent in the number of asylum seekers requesting social assistance.
According to the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity, there was an increase of almost 27 per cent in the number of asylum seekers requesting social assistance.

Quebec is challenging a Court of Appeal ruling that allows asylum seekers access to subsidized daycare in the province. (Olga Ryazanseva/Getty Images)

But Rodriguez says expecting people earning low wages to pay for private child care after having fled "countries where the situation is horrible" is another barrier to their integration.

"What's the message you're telling these people? 'Don't work because you cannot pay for daycare for your children,'" he said. "The same way daycare is the way kids integrate into society, work is the way parents integrate."