WINNIPEG — The war of words between Manitoba and the federal government escalated Tuesday as Premier Brian Pallister urged federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to see for himself how asylum-seekers are straining provincial resources.
“Mr. Goodale needs to get closer to the people who are providing the services and he’ll understand how overstretched they are,” Pallister said.
“We’re asking for the federal government to stop standing by while Manitobans do all the work.”
Pallister’s comments came shortly after Goodale said the federal government is monitoring the growing number of refugee claimants who are crossing the border from the United States.
The community of Emerson has been one of the hot spots and Pallister has asked for more money to help pay for housing, language training, legal aid and other services.
Goodale said immigration is a joint federal-provincial responsibility, and many of the people crossing into Manitoba soon leave for other parts of the country.
“It would appear that a great many are not remaining in Manitoba and, in fact, are moving to other locations,” he said at an event in Regina. “So the pressures in terms of housing and other accommodation would actually fall in other communities.
“But we’re following all of this very carefully to be sure that we’ve got what we need to have to cope with this efficiently and safely.”
More than 200 people have walked across open fields and through ditches near Emerson since Jan. 1. Many of those making the journey are originally from African nations and fear deportation from the United States under toughened immigration laws.
They cross fields and ditches instead of at official border posts because of the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country agreement. Under the agreement, people who have made refugee claims first in the U.S. are turned back at official Canadian entry points, but it does not apply to people who get onto Canadian soil first.
Pallister wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the issue two weeks ago, but has not heard back. He said Tuesday federal funding for services such as legal-aid and language training has not kept up with demand.
“It’s not a tremendous challenge I don’t think, intellectually, to understand that we have more than two and a half times the traffic flow (of refugee claimants) and we have tremendous front-line demands being placed on us in many areas that are of shared responsibility.”
Pallister is also fighting with the federal government over health-care funding. Manitoba is the last remaining province not to sign a unilateral deal on health transfer payments, following agreements reached last week with Quebec, Ontario and Alberta.
The federal government originally offered three per cent annual increases last fall, but sweetened the pot in recent months with targeted funding for programs such as opioid addiction treatment.
Pallister said earlier in the week the federal offer was not enough to keep up with rising health-care costs, and he was not afraid of standing alone as the last holdout.
On Tuesday, he remained firm.
“This is the number 1 issue for Canadians, the number 1 issue for Manitobans, and it has to be addressed in a co-operative way, and that has not been the case thus far.”
— With files from Jennifer Graham in Regina