Ontario Big City Mayors from Oshawa to Oakville say Ottawa needs to fully fund refugee support


Published July 19, 2023 at 9:20 am

Photo Alexa Gilmour/Broadview

A group representing Ontario’s 29 largest cities – including all five of Durham Region’s urban lakeshore communities and another seven cities from Mississauga to St. Catharines – say Ottawa has to step up its support for asylum seekers because local municipalities can “no longer keep up with the demand.”

“The Canadian government is failing to fully fund the municipal front line that Canada relies on to welcome and settle newcomers,” read a statement from Ontario’s Big City Mayors, citing the recent influx of refugees fleeing conflict in their home countries that has “dramatically increased pressure” on a system that is already over capacity. “Municipalities can no longer keep up.”

The group, which includes mayors of 29 cities with a population of 100,000 or more (collectively representing nearly 70 percent of Ontario’s population), acknowledge that housing and supports for asylum seekers are traditional responsibilities.

“Historically, by working together with other orders of government, local agencies and community partners to co-ordinate their settlement, municipalities have been able to expand services when there has been an influx through emergency shelter systems and other wraparound supports,” the statement read. “This is no longer the case.”

The Big City Mayors claim Ottawa has not consulted or planned with municipalities to ensure the newcomers have the support they need, noting that when those needs are not met it is often vulnerable and marginalized communities that are impacted the most.

Cities are on the “front line” in welcoming newcomers to Canada but the infrastructure municipalities are using to deal with refugee housing crisis is dated, the group added.

“Municipal leaders are operating with a nineteenth century revenue system to respond to twenty-first century responsibilities that include a housing and homelessness crisis, public health and safety issues such as the mental health and addictions crisis, ageing infrastructure, and other traditional responsibilities.”

The Big City Mayors say this week’s announcement by the federal government to increase interim housing supports in Toronto by $97 million is a “good start,” but “it does not solve the systemic capacity issues municipalities across Ontario are facing, nor does it address the current refugee crisis in communities throughout the GTA and beyond.”

An “urgent meeting” of all orders of government to discuss immediate action on the capacity issues faced by the municipalities and to put in place a funding model that addresses the “on-going need for emergency housing and other supports” is needed, the group said.

They are also calling on the federal government to consult with municipalities, provinces and territories on the process of setting of immigration targets, including for international students, and on the funding and supports cities require to ensure people receive the housing and other services they need when they arrive.

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