Ford's campaign forced to defend 'take care of our own' comment
Mark DeMontis, middle, greets supporters with Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford during his campaign office opening for York South-Weston in Toronto on Saturday, May 12, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Vincent Elkaim
The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, May 12, 2018 1:02PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 12, 2018 3:58PM EDT
TORONTO -- Facing criticism for suggesting Ontario has to "take care of our own" before pushing for immigrants to move to northern Ontario, Doug Ford's campaign team said the Tory leader is supportive of new Canadians and immigration.
In a statement Saturday, Ford's campaign spokeswoman Melissa Lantsman said the leader's comments at the debate are being mischaracterized by his political opponents.
"Doug Ford is completely supportive of new Canadians and immigration policies that welcome immigrants," she said. "Ford Nation is a diverse group of supporters, including strong support in immigrant communities."
During Friday's northern debate, Ford said the government would have to exhaust every option for employing locals before relying on immigrants to fill jobs in sparsely populated areas.
Lantsman said Ford is open to the northern Ontario immigration program but believes that people in the north have felt "left behind."
"We need immediate policies to help those currently living in these communities," she said.
Premier Kathleen Wynne said the Progressive Conservative leader would have to explain exactly what he meant by the comment, which she said was "very disturbing".
Both Wynne and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said they would consider an immigration pilot project to combat population decline and draw workers to the northern reaches of the province, similar to one already in place in Atlantic Canada.
Wynne said that in a country where everyone except Indigenous people are immigrants, she doesn't know who Ford considers "our own."
Meantime, Horwath called Ford's comments on immigration "worrisome" not only for herself but for the northern municipal leaders who hosted the debate.
"I have to say I was a little bit shocked," she said Saturday. "I've heard that language used by people who are suggesting that newcomers are not welcome in the province or in our country and that's not an opinion that I share."
She added that Ford's response showed he did not understand what the municipal leaders were saying with their question on facilitating immigration to the region.
"They want more newcomers in their communities, they want to ensure the local economy has more skilled workers and more population," she said.
"While the municipal leaders were basically saying, 'Let's find the way to roll out the red carpet and welcome newcomers in,' Mr. Ford's comments seemed to be completely opposite of what they were asking for."
Michael Coteau, a Liberal MPP for a Toronto riding, called on Ford to address the comments on Saturday morning.
"I found PC Leader Doug Ford's comments on immigrants insulting," he said. "As an immigrant myself I took it personal, but also as a resident of this great city that's been built on a strong immigrant past. Our economy continues to be built on immigration. I find he doesn't really understand what makes this country great."
A spokesman for Ford said Saturday morning that the Tory leader was not immediately available for comment.