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By Susanna Kelley

The reaction of Stephen Harper to the deafening chorus of Canadians and others demanding Canada take in many more Syrian refugees — and right away — couldn't be more starkly illustrative of the clear choice before the voters in this election.

While Germany says it can take 500,000 of the refugees in each of the next several years, Mr. Harper will not budge from his position of 10,000 more Syrian and Iraqi refugees over the next four years. Mr. Harper mixes both Iraqi and Syrian refugees as well as those who are privately sponsored and those who are government-sponsored. It has been excruciatingly difficult to get the Conservatives to answer how many are actually government-sponsored Syrian refugees. 

Mr. Harper has dug in his heels despite the fact that Canada has done much more before in previous crisis - 60,000 Vietnamese boat people beginning in 1979, 37,000 from Hungary in the 1950s, 35,000 Bosnians and 5,000 from Kosovo in the 1990s.

But in this, a much bigger crisis — one that has been called "of Biblical proportions" — Mr. Harper adamantly says we must do much less than in the past.

Instead, he wants to rely on more military action in the region to fight the Islamic State (i.e. bombing), which does not solve a problem caused by a murderous dictator and a civil war. 

And so, the choice has been crystalized in the debate over: 1) whether Canada has done enough so far in helping desperate Syrian refugees fleeing a civil war caused by a murderous dictatorship and the Islamic State amongst others, and 2) how much more should Canada actually do at this point and 3) what exactly that should be.

And in the face of the public outpouring of grief and outrage over the photo of drowned three year old Alan Kurdi, who died, along with his brother and mother, when their rubber dinghy capsized in the Mediterranean as the refugee family tried desperately to cross from Turkey to Greece, Mr. Harper's policy has moved not an inch.

Meanwhile, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has pledged Canada would take in 10,000 Syrian refugees this year and 9,000 for each of the following four years for a total of 46,000, if the NDP are elected. He says his Chief of Staff has tried to reach out to Mr. Harper's Chief of Staff to discuss the issue.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau promises to take in 25,000 this year and has called on Mr. Harper to meet to get this started right away, not waiting until the election is over.

Mr. Harper calls these suggestions "partisan games."

Whatever they are, Mr. Harper should grab the ideas.

A Nanos poll done over the Labour Day weekend shows support for the Conservatives has dropped 2.3 per cent, taking them to a third place showing of 26.2 per cent.

Nanos is blaming Mr. Harper's reaction to the refugee crisis for the drop. 

After the last month, with its Nixonian Duffy-gate revelations that his former Chief of Staff personally paid for inappropriate personal expenses for Senator Mike Duffy then tried to interfere with a Senate investigation as well as a KPMG audit, Mr. Harper is hardly coming into the post-Labour Day main theatre of the campaign war looking like a bastion of morality.

Mr. Harper calling Statistics Canada's figures showing Canada is in a recession "economic good news," while trying to re-write the standard definition of a recession, looks positively Orwellian.

But back to his reaction to the refugee crisis.

What is one to think about Mr. Harper's capacity for empathy when he showed only a few seconds of emotion over the photo of Alan Kurdi's dead body, then plunged right back into calling for more support for air bombing missions into Syria as a solution, making nary a fraction of a change in policy direction regarding the refugees?

And by the way, while the Conservative government turned down Alan Kurdi's uncle for refugee status last spring, it gave as a reason the fact the uncle had not been able to obtain the documents it required. Those document requirements were a new bureaucratic Catch-22 by a government that was, in essence, slamming the door shut to Syrian refugees and which had reduced the overall number of refugees by thousands since coming to office.  On top of that, a letter pleading for approval for the little boy, his brother, mother and father was also ignored after NDP MP Finn Donnelly gave it to Immigration Minister Chris Alexander last spring.  So either way you look at it, the decision was made by the Harper government to deny entry to Alan Kurdi and his family.

After which the family tried to cross the sea to Greece, three of them drowning in the process.

Contrast Mr. Harper's position with the outpouring of heartbreak by Canadians from every walk of life, from everyday folk to prominent Canadians, and you have a very good idea of what the choices are in this election.

Duffy-gate, a recessionary economy and Syrian refugees shut out of this country by a government that created a Catch-22 bureaucratic nightmare for those trying to get it — all have one common thread: they are policy initiatives of Mr. Harper and reflect his vision of Canada.

And they are just a few of the ways Mr. Harper has taken Canada down a path that is against the traditions of this country: military bombings vs. traditional Canadian peacekeeping and generous refugee admissions; a suspicious, frightened leadership that spies on its own citizens rather than the Canadian tradition of promoting civil liberties as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms did; discouraging citizen voting participation by directly outlawing Elections Canada's traditional work to encourage more people to vote; and on and on it goes.

With all the reams of stories being written about which is "the" election campaign issue, it seems we can't see the forest for the trees.

The issue isn't Duffy, or the economy, or Syrian refugees.

The issue is Mr. Harper and his vision for Canada that all three of these lay bare.

And Conservative hopes that they will be forgotten as we move into the more intensive phase of the campaign are in vain, because the campaign ads of the NDP and the Liberals won't let them be forgotten.

Much like a rush to stop Tim Hudak sent voters to the Liberals provincially, it is likely Mr. Harper himself will be the ballot question federally.

It is likely to be no more complicated than this: after all they've seen, do voters want Stephen Harper and his vision of Canada for another four years, or they want to return to Canada's more traditional values?

And Canadian voters, who have always had an innate ability to cut through all the nonsense that political operatives try to use to spin them with, will make their choice on this question itself come Election Day October 19th.





























About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : September 08, 2015

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