Ottawa pledges 2 million to provinces, cities to temporarily house asylum seekers

OTTAWA – The federal government is spending another $362 million to help provinces and cities find housing for asylum seekers – but Ontario says it’s nowhere near enough.

Immigration Minister Marc Miller billed the assistance Wednesday as a measure of support against the growing impact of asylum claims across Canada.

But he, too, acknowledged that a lot more must be done.

“This program is important because it gets shelters over people’s heads, particularly with the temperature that it is outside,” Miller said.

“But it needs reform, and that’s something that will have to be worked on … in the coming months.”

Housing and support for asylum seekers are the responsibility of provincial and municipal governments, but Ottawa has already offered multiple top-up payments like this one to ease the load.

More substantive change is needed, Miller said.

“I think we owe it to Canadians to reform a system that has very much been a stopgap measure since 2017 to deal with large historic flows of migration.”

As of last week, about 7,300 asylum claimants in need of housing were staying in 4,000 hotel rooms in six provinces, Miller said.

Of the new money, he said $100 million will go to Quebec.

He wouldn’t offer details on how the rest of the money will be distributed, but said Toronto will get a “significant amount.”

That could be the whole sum and still wouldn’t be enough, complained Paul Calandra, Ontario’s minister of municipal affairs and housing.

It “doesn’t cover the needs of Toronto, let alone all the other municipalities facing the same pressures due to the increased numbers of asylum claimants,” he said in a joint statement with Immigration Minister David Piccini.

“The federal government needs to take responsibility for the crisis it created and provide the necessary funding to address it.”

The pressure is typically greatest in big cities like Montreal and Toronto, where migrants often begin their job search and seek out existing ethnic communities.

The system as it stands is “not perfect,” and not a long-term solution, Miller said.

“But it’s something we have to do.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2024.

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