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Quebec says Ottawa owes it $300 million for costs related to refugee influx

Quebec Premier Francois Legault arrives at the the first ministers' meeting in Montreal on Friday, December 7, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

MONTREAL — Quebec Premier Francois Legault plans to press Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Friday’s first ministers’ meeting for $300 million in federal compensation to covers the cost of refugees arriving in the province.

Legault said Ottawa is so far only offering half of what Quebec is seeking, but “there is an opening” from Trudeau for more money.

Since 2017, there has been an influx of asylum seekers entering Quebec across the United States border. Legault said that on average, it takes about 18 months for would-be refugees to find out if they can remain in the country.

In the meantime, Quebec pays for their housing, education and health care costs, which have totalled roughly $300 million over two years, Legault said Friday.

“I expect Mr. Trudeau to compensate us,” he said at a downtown Montreal hotel before meeting the prime minister and the country’s other premiers.

“It’s unacceptable for it to take 18 months before (asylum seekers) get an answer. And in the majority of cases, they are refused, because they cannot prove that their life is in danger.”

Federal authorities processed 24,745 asylum claims made in Quebec in 2017 — a fivefold increase from the previous year. The pace has continued this year, with 23,595 clamaints in Quebec processed through the end of October.

The province receives more than half of all asylum claims in Canada, including the vast majority of those entering through non-official border crossings.

Legault said it is Ottawa’s responsibility to pay for the direct costs of asylum seekers.

The issue of compensation for refugee costs is part of larger negotiations between Ottawa and Quebec over immigration.

The Legault government this week announced plans to reduce annual immigration to the province by 20 per cent starting next year. The province wants to reduce all three types of immigration: economic, family reunification and refugees.

It only controls economic immigration, however, so it needs Ottawa’s co-operation to curtail immigration in the other two categories.  And Trudeau has already raised concerns about Quebec’s plan.

According to a 1991 agreement between Quebec and the federal government, the province is guaranteed 25 per cent of the total money Ottawa transfers to the provinces for immigration settlement.

Despite its planned reductions, Quebec is set to receive about $550 million in 2019 – up from about $490 million in 2018.

Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press