Canada ministers grilled on irregular migration from U.S.

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Opposition legislators on Tuesday accused Canadian government ministers of mishandling the flow of asylum seekers from the United States, adding to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s problems ahead of a 2019 election.

More than 30,000 would-be refugees have crossed the border since January 2017, many saying they were fleeing U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

Aid agencies are struggling to house the new arrivals as the inflow has clogged the system for processing asylum claims. Toronto’s mayor says the city cannot accommodate any more asylum seekers.

Trudeau’s ruling Liberals say the flow is diminishing as they take steps to deter border crossers. But at a special parliamentary committee hearing on Tuesday, both the right-leaning Conservatives and left-of-center New Democrats termed Ottawa’s response as inadequate.

“We have not had a plan from the government. We have had a reactionary approach from the government,” said New Democrat legislator Jenny Kwan.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, saying there would be no easy quick solutions to what he called a global problem, told legislators that “there is a challenge, but it is not a crisis.”

The newly-elected government in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, is demanding more funding to deal with the spike. The Liberals won most of Ontario’s seats in the 2015 poll and will need to do the same in the October 2019 election to stay in power.

A Nanos Research poll on Tuesday showed the Liberals and Conservatives tied at 36 percent of public support, suggesting that if an election were held today, Trudeau could lose power.

Trudeau shuffled his cabinet last week as the political pressure built up, and he named Bill Blair to take up the new post of border security minister.

Toronto says 800 asylum seekers in college dormitories will have to move out by Aug. 9. Blair said they would move into hotels.

“Do you think it’s reasonable to house 800 people in hotels ... would you characterize housing someone in a hotel for an indeterminate period as adequate housing?” asked Conservative legislator Michelle Rempel.

“They are undergoing due process in the review of their claim for asylum and in that period, I think this is ... appropriate,” Blair replied.

The Conservatives contend that if the government does not take a tougher approach to deter migrants, it will undermine Canadians’ belief in one of the world’s most welcoming immigration systems. Canada aims to attract 310,000 permanent residents in 2018, just under 1 percent of the population.

Reporting by David Ljunggren, editing by G Crosse