How Ontario’s Parties Stack Up on Immigration and Refugees
Ontario’s upcoming provincial election falls on June 7, 2018. Three main contenders are vying for voter support: Kathleen Wynne, incumbent premier and leader of the Ontario Liberal Party; Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath; and Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford.
The election has been a divisive one, with candidates sparring over issues ranging from taxation to education and everything in between. But how do the parties compare on issues pertaining to immigration and refugees?
The Liberals’ “Care over Cuts” campaign is using their 2018 Ontario Budget as a policy platform. They have pledged to invest in childcare, healthcare, and social services, creating an increased deficit.
Their stance on immigration to Ontario focuses largely on economic immigration, with a commitment to continued support of the Ontario Bridge Training Program which is designed to help connect skilled immigrants to the job market.
Furthermore, the Liberals want to increase the number of economic immigrants coming to Ontario via the Provincial Nominee Program. Wynne’s Liberals specifically want to bring the total to 6,600 in 2018.
Other aspects of the Liberal platform discuss ongoing mental health support for immigrants in the form of a proposed $2.1 billion investment in supports and systems.
Refugees are only mentioned twice in the Liberal Party’s full platform text, once as a confirmation of a promise kept from the previous election to welcome more Syrian refugees, and the second time confirming their ongoing commitment to an inclusive province.
The NDP pledges heavy investment in healthcare and social services, projecting multi-year deficits. These deficits would be paid for in part by increasing taxes for high-income earners, corporations, luxury cars, and real estate in the form of a speculation tax for non-Ontario residents.
As part of their official platform, the NDP has committed to removing gaps and barriers to healthcare, including a promise that all Ontario residents will have access to care, regardless of their immigration status.
The party cites this as the humane thing to do and has further committed to ending the practice of holding federal immigration detainees in provincial correctional facilities.
Perhaps most notable among the NDP’s promises is their commitment to declare Ontario a sanctuary province, a location where people can “access basic services without fear, regardless of their immigration status.”
Though the commitment to declaring Ontario a Sanctuary Province has been met with skepticism and criticism by some, it should be noted that, as a Toronto city councillor, Doug Ford supported a motion to make Toronto a sanctuary city.
The NDP has also pledged, in response to questions from the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, that they would continue to support employment initiatives for newcomers to Canada, including ongoing language training in Northern Ontario.
The Conservatives also put out a campaign platform in the final week before the election. Doug Ford has pledged to balance the books and cut $6 billion from the province’s budget.
Ford wants to remove the planned minimum wage increase from $14 to $15 next year. In its place, he would provide an income tax credit for those who earn minimum wage. Those who earn less than $28,000 per year would pay no income tax, which could benefit immigrants and refugees attempting to build a new life in Ontario.
The Conservative platform makes specific mention of immigration once, with a pledge to reform the foreign credential recognition process to help qualified immigrants come to Ontario. This is intended to help them make contributions to the economy to their fullest potential immediately.
However, the PCs have courted controversy over Ford’s comments regarding immigration, not to mention the comments of certain PC candidates.
In a mid-May debate, the NDP and Liberals said they would consider an immigration pilot project to help the declining population and workforce in Northern Ontario, Ford said he would want to take care of residents in Northern Ontario first before giving jobs to skilled immigrants, even though this goes against what some northern municipalities are asking for.
Horwath commented that perhaps Ford had missed the point of the question, and added that these municipalities are looking for population as younger residents head towards urban centres.
Following the debate, Ford was asked to explain his comments in a news conference. It was here that Ford made the pledge to help qualified immigrants find work in Ontario, adding, “We take care of new Canadians … We take care of immigrants coming to this country.”
More recently, PC candidate Ripudaman Dhillon has been accused of defrauding four ex-clients of thousands of dollars, having promised to help bring family members to Canada, “only to see their immigration applications denied.” Ford is standing behind his candidate.
Regardless of whichever party wins the election on June 7, all parties have outlined various policies relating to immigration and refugees. As the NDP and PCs enter the neck-and-neck final stretch, it seems that Ontario is in for a change, one way or another.