It’s Ontario vs. Ottawa in Battle Over Health Care for Refugees

Minister of Citizenship and Immigration CanadaCitizenship and Immigration Minister (CIC) Chris Alexander is not happy with Ontario’s decision to introduce a new program designed to provide refugee claimants with primary care, hospital services and medication.

Alexander recently said the federal government was “disappointed with the Ontario government’s recent decision to reinstate healthcare benefits to all asylum seekers, even rejected refugee claimants”. The CIC minister added that “simply arriving on our shores and claiming hardship isn’t good enough. This isn’t a self-selection bonanza or a social program buffet.”

Alexander’s comments come in the wake of a new Ontario program that commenced on Jan. 1 that provides refugee claimants with a wide array of healthcare benefits regardless of their current refugee status. The new provincial program was introduced after cuts were made to a similar federal refugee health care program.

The CIC minister said he believes the new Ontario health care program for refugees runs counter to the intentions of the federal government’s policy.

“The decision [of Ontario to introduce the new refugee health care program] is irresponsible as it makes Canada—and Ontario in particular—a magnet for bonus asylum seekers,” Alexander said.

Under the Ontario program—which is similar to programs in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia—refugees will be able to receive medical care regardless of their immigration status. However, Ontario’s program is of particular importance as the province attracts 55 percent of all refugee claimants to Canada.

Ontario officials estimate the new program will cost approximately $20 million, and the province intends to pass that bill along to Ottawa for payment.