GTHA mayors call on Ottawa, Ontario to fund Ukrainian newcomers' resettlement efforts

TORONTO — The federal and Ontario governments ought to provide funding for a program dedicated to help Ukrainian newcomers in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, the mayors and chairs of several large municipalities in the region said in a joint statement Monday.

The mayors of Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton and Vaughan, along with other municipal leaders in the region, said that almost 2,000 people from 750 households have accessed emergency housing and other services through a project to co-ordinate efforts to support Ukrainian newcomers.

They said the governments of Canada and Ontario had assured them that support for Ukrainian newcomers was coming but dedicated funding sought by the municipalities has yet to arrive.

"The mayors and chairs continue to support the Canadian government’s strong condemnation of Russian aggression as well as actions taken to welcome Ukrainian refugees fleeing a terrible, unjustified war," the municipal leaders said.

"They commend the federal government for support to date with expedited visa processing, support for up to two weeks of hotel accommodation for those with no other options, as well as emergency financial assistance for Ukrainian refugees who qualify."

The leaders said these supports from Ottawa are "very welcome," but they are not sufficient.

They said they are continuing to provide services for the Ukrainians at "virtually the sole expense" of the municipalities.

"The unprecedented cooperative proposal between and among the municipal governments has been in the hands of the federal government for months," they said.

"As more refugees are welcomed to the GTHA, the extensive, unprecedented regional coordination to provide housing and supports is crucial, but local resources are limited."

A spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said the federal government works closely with provinces, territories and municipalities that are supporting Ukrainians arriving in the country.

Jeffrey MacDonald also noted Ukrainian newcomers have access to settlement program services typically only available to permanent residents, and can apply for a direct payment of $3,000 per adult and $1,500 per child to support basic needs.

"As the situation unfolds, we are continuously adapting and updating our response," MacDonald wrote in a statement. "We work closely with the Ukrainian Canadian community as well as our provincial, territorial and municipal partners on this Team Canada approach to welcoming Ukrainian’s fleeing Vladimir Putin’s war."

Caitlin Clark, a spokeswoman for Premier Doug Ford, noted the province announced supports last April for Ukrainian newcomers.

The government said at the time that the war refugees would have access to services including a dedicated jobs hotline, provincially funded funded health-care supports including mental health care and publicly available prescription drugs, and that students would be able to attend public schools.

It also said Ukrainian newcomers in financial need would be able to access emergency assistance, and that the government was providing $900,000 in additional funding over three years to the Canadian Ukrainian Immigrant Aid Society to enhance the agency's ability to respond to the crisis.

“Last year, as families fled Ukraine, our government stepped up to ensure that resources and supports were in place to support them, with access to jobs, health care and income support, and free education," Clark said in an email.

"Ontario will always stand with the people of Ukraine against Putin’s illegal war of aggression."

More than 145,000 Ukrainian citizens and Canadian permanent residents of Ukrainian origin have arrived in Canada since the beginning of last year, according to government data.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 23, 2023.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press