TORONTO - The “spat” between Ontario and Ottawa over the fabricated “refugee crisis” unleashed another torrent of hyper partisanship and unveiled a quasi, semisovereigntist movement in Ontario. It is about the money and who is in control of how it should be spent.
Not since the early successes of the Bloc Quebecois in the early 1990s has Confederation met such a test over jurisdiction and policy-making. The picture [of mayor Tory and minister Blair, published on today's Corriere Canadese edition] reveals just how far relations have deteriorated between Ottawa, Queen’s Park and, by extension, the City of Toronto. Mayor Tory should have been all smiles at being on the receiving end of an $11 million windfall from the federal government for refugee accommodation. He was anything but that. He wanted $64 million. Prime Minister Trudeau’s emissary, newly appointed Minister, former Toronto Police Chief, Bill Blair, acknowledged there will be on-going discussions but the case for extra money has not been made yet. He looked genuinely perplexed. He must have remembered the G20 meeting in 2010 when, as Police Chief, he had difficulty spending the $ 1.3 billion dollars ($860 million for police services from various jurisdictions) the Feds showered on the city for security. Nonetheless, the $11 million is an impressive $30,000 per each of the 372 refugees currently hosted in vacant student housing units. Minister Blair took pains to remind everyone that the amount claimed by the City is for unforeseen (extraordinary) expenses. The amounts are designed to show “responsible” accounting and to cool down the “fears” about a perceived failed policy. And, to be fair, the Federal authorities budget for each of the refugees as per Canada’s obligations under Multilateral agreements.
Nor are the numbers of refugees from the USA as high as those originally touted – and, compared to those experienced by Italy and other Mediterranean countries, picayune. But these are fine points of debate. Sums and numbers are exaggerated or massaged to suit the bombast required for the moment. The moment calls for aggressive promotion of public policy, its benefits and its goals. “School marmish tut-tuting” merely inflames visceral responses and puts relationships at risk. Mayor Tory is in the middle of an election campaign. He cannot be seen to be weak. Minister Blair, “responsible for border security”, but without a mandate letter that outlines to whom and how the bureaucracy at Canadian Border Services reports, looked uncomfortable at this “half measure”. Trudeau will be in full election mode once the municipal elections in Toronto are done. He’ll need more of the dwindling number of friends and allies at City Hall and “on the ground”. Ford’s spokespersons pounced on the cheque delivery as a cheap photo op, demanding instead the $270 million Ontario is owed for the “refugee crisis”. It is a back-handed way of reminding Tory and Trudeau that the real negotiations are to be conducted with Ford. Doug Ford, a firm believer in the political axiom that the next election campaign starts the day after the last one, is still in election mode. He needs a bogeyman or a “fall guy”. It will cost someone a lot of money and even more political capital.