How the Government Spends on Refugees Is More Significant than The Sum
How much do asylum seekers crossing the border cost Canada?
This question is at the centre of an ongoing debate within the country. Beyond being front-page news and a hot-button talking point for political parties and Canadians at large, it’s become a bone of contention between the federal and provincial governments.
Processing and settling claimants, and how that cost should be split between these levels of government, continues to be a contentious issue. Most recently, the Ontario government asked for an additional $200 million in funding from the Federal government, citing processing and housing costs for new arrivals.
Some municipal governments are feeling the pinch, too. According to a report from the City of Toronto’s interim city manager, the city has spent some $64.5 million on emergency housing over the past 2 fiscal years, another demand for the city’s budget.
There is some sense of relief now that asylum numbers are starting to drop, but ancillary costs are expected to remain until city planning officers can figure out a more long-term solution.
This apparent financial strain has many questioning Canada’s welcoming attitudes towards refugees, given the price tag. With over 23,000 crossings into Canada from outside official points of entry, Parliamentary Budget Officer and Conservative MP Larry Maguire has committed to crunching the numbers to determine the exact cost.
That said, concrete planning and procedures for welcoming, processing, screening, and settling refugees demonstrably lowers overall costs, especially when compared to reactionary spending.
The clearest example is the cost of the Resettlement Assistance Program for Syrian refugees. Months of planning and cost analysis for the program helped ensure a reasonable cost of $68 million, just a few million more than the city of Toronto has paid on its own.
This comparison is significant because the federal program housed more than twice the number of asylum seekers than Toronto has had to deal with. The main difference between the Resettlement Assistance Program and Toronto’s refugee settlement costs is the cooperation between all levels of government. Toronto has had to shoulder the costs on its own, without a defined plan of action for asylum seekers, while the Resettlement Assistance Program coordinated costs and logistics with the province and several municipalities.
Much of this debate is also complicated by a partisan divide, with progressives often advocating the concept of open borders, and most conservatives clamouring for a stricter process where anyone entering the country using irregular points of entry is immediately deported.
Those ideological differences can be partially bridged if costs can be reduced, and through additional planning by all levels of the Canadian government, the process of helping those desperate to build new lives for their families will be more cost-effective than continuing to address the issue without proper preparation.