TORONTO — Ontario Premier Doug Ford would not apologize Tuesday for comments about immigrants that some called "callous" and "xenophobic," raising concerns that he was feeding negative stereotypes about newcomers.
While talking about a shortage of workers in the province a day earlier, Ford said people who want to come and work their "tail off" like every other new Canadian has done should come to Ontario, but those who want to "collect the dole and sit around" should go elsewhere.
New Democrat Doly Begum said at the legislature Tuesday that the comments were callous and offensive to families like hers, who came to Ontario for a better future, and called for an apology.
Ford said he is pro-immigration, but he did not apologize.
"All you have to do is come to a Ford Fest," he said, referencing an annual Ford family party for supporters, particularly popular when his late brother Rob Ford was the Toronto mayor.
"You'll see the support from people around the world that come there ... I'll tell you how Ford Nation was created. They came to this country, they couldn't get ahold of any NDP (or) Liberal leaders, but they got ahold of the mayor of Toronto, they got a hold of the premier. We show up to their door. We return their calls."
The Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants condemned Doug Ford's initial comments and said anyone in public office should know better than to echo anti-immigrant stereotypes.
"It's truly unfortunate that the premier of Ontario would promote such unfounded stereotypes about immigrants," OCASI executive director Debbie Douglas said in a statement.
"These tropes of the 'lazy' immigrant/refugee/newcomer coming to 'sit on the dole' further anti-immigrant sentiments. We know that new immigrants are primarily racialized from the global south, so the premier's comments, intended or not, landed as racist rhetoric."
Nawaz Tahir had also noticed the comments. He acted as a spokesman for a London, Ont., mosque where a memorial service was held for four members of a Muslim family who were killed when a pickup truck hit them in what police allege was an intentional act.
Tahir met Ford that night and said he saw the empathy the premier showed to the Afzaal family. He said he hopes that same empathy leads Ford to apologize for his comments.
"It's important to understand why it's offensive and to come out and say, you know, 'It was wrong of me to say this' and show an understanding of why it’s wrong," Tahir said.
"If you do that as the premier of Ontario, you help combat the stereotype that the original comments fed into."
Tahir said he has heard from community members who are offended by the comments. Tahir, who was born in London, said he has also been on the receiving end of strangers yelling at him to go back to his country.
"It’s this kind of narrative that feeds into that stereotype, that anger, that immigrants are coming here and doing something negative or negatively impacting the economy," he said.
Deputy Premier Christine Elliott defended Ford earlier in the day, saying an apology wasn't necessary.
"What the premier was actually saying is that we need more immigration in Ontario," she said. "We have lots of work. We know that when people come here they do work hard."
Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca urged Ford to apologize.
"It doesn't show weakness to apologize when you make a mistake," he said. "I think it actually shows strength."
Even the language Ford used shows an "outdated notion of the value of immigration," Del Duca said.
"I'd encourage Doug, get out of the bubble. Get out of the 1950s, take a look at modern Ontario, be comfortable with it, support it, and let's move forward," he said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Ford should show leadership and say he is sorry.
"They deserved an apology and instead they got an invitation to Ford Fest and that's just not acceptable," she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 19, 2021.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press