TORONTO – Ontario wants Ottawa to give it the same immigration powers as other provinces, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Wednesday.
Immigration policies under both federal Liberal and Conservative governments have been “tilted” in favour of Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia, McGuinty said.
“Each of those three provinces have more control over immigration than we do here in Ontario, and so far the federal government is refusing to give us the same controls,” he said. “We want more control over the funds that arrive here. Just give us the money and we’ll deal directly with our settlement agencies.”
Ontario wants the federal government to give it the authority to administer, plan and design integration and settlement programs for newcomers _ the same powers it gave the other provinces. There would be costs associated with that, McGuinty said, but he wasn’t sure what the dollar figure would be.
“The reality is the government of Canada can’t justify having one set of rules and services for immigrants in some parts of Canada without applying those same rules and giving those same services to immigrants who arrive in Ontario,” said McGuinty. “Let me make it clear: we’re not asking for special treatment. We’re asking for equal treatment. We’re asking for an even playing field.”
Ontario gets too many family class immigrants but only 16 per cent of economic class newcomers when the national average is 25 per cent, McGuinty said.
“We also want more say in the selection of immigrants coming to Ontario so we can make choices that support our economic growth,” he said. “We want to approach that national average.”
Ontario was shortchanged $200 million under the just-expired immigration deal with Ottawa, which also cut $44 million in funding to settlement agencies in the province, said McGuinty.
“That’s not right,” he said.
It’s not the first time McGuinty has complained about federal immigration policies. The Ontario legislature passed resolutions last December and again last month calling for a new immigration agreement with the federal government.
However, the Opposition said McGuinty was attacking the federal government to distract from soaring electricity prices and the HST.
“Mr. McGuinty picking a phoney war with the federal government today over immigration isn’t going to take the people of Ontario’s minds off the fact that their cost of living is going through the roof,” said Progressive Conservative critic Jim Wilson. “This is not a top-of-mind issue today for the people of Ontario.”
The New Democrats also said McGuinty is trying to distract people from the fact his energy and tax polices are hitting consumers hard.
“On the things that people really care about like the HST, this government was buddy buddy with the federal government,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. “All of a sudden he’s picking fights left, right and centre to divert attention away from the real issues people are facing.”
Despite pleading for more funding to help immigrants, McGuinty dismissed a call from the Ontario Medical Association to drop the 90-day waiting period before people qualify for coverage under the province’s health insurance system. No one will be turned away from an emergency room or community care centre, added McGuinty.
“There are, in fact, opportunities and options available to even our very newest Canadians to obtain care should they so require,” he said.