Justin Trudeau is calling on a number of key ministers to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by December 31st. Blair McCreadie, Marit Stiles and Richard Mahoney are in the ONW Salon to discuss whether they'll make it.
One of the most memorable moments of the last campaign surely was Syrian refugee issue. It was highlighted by the tragic death of Alan Kurdi, a little boy whose family wanted to come to Canada. That captured the hearts of many Canadians and Justin Trudeau and the Liberals reiterated their position, taken earlier in the year, that Canada should strive to take in many more, as many as 25,000 by year end.
Harper's Conservatives originally appeared to be unprepared for the issue, with apparently unsympathetic and uncaring responses by then Immigration Minister Chris Alexander and former PM Stephen Harper. What became apparent was that their position on going slow on refugees was part of a wider effort to raise the terror issue and promote fear amongst Canadians. The banning of the niqab and the barbaric cultural practices hotline were all part of this narrative and made for the one of the low points of the campaign and, in my opinion, Mr. Harper's political career.
Now, with a handful of weeks left in the year, the new government is facing the challenge of trying to get this done in a responsible and humanitarian way. A Cabinet committee has been appointed, and all hands will have to be on deck:
Hey Richard, the campaign is over…and you won. (By the way, my belated congratulations.) But that means you can stop the anti-Harper spin.
The Trudeau Liberals are clearly making this promise to bring 25,000 more Syrian refugees to Canada a key early test of their credibility. In addition to being a high-profile Liberal commitment during the campaign, the new government has now re-iterated the promise to meet the target of 25,000 refugees by the end of 2015 and, as Richard has pointed out, Minister McCallum is saying that all options are on the table to get that done.
This was underscored again this week when the government announced a cabinet committee on refugees that is made up of a number of key cabinet heavyweights. So this is clearly a key agenda item in early days.
But can the Liberals deliver on their promise by December 31st?
Most experts seem to suggest that this is very doubtful, given the required logistics around intake and transportation required to process applicants, not to mention the required medical and security clearances. In addition, the new government will need to co-ordinate with countless stakeholders, including refugee reception centres, the Ministry of Defence, provincial agencies responsible for refugee settlement and integration, and sponsorship applicants. That’s a very tall order with only 7 weeks to go.
The Minister may want to be more careful that he does not over-promise and then under-deliver.
I agree there is little question this is a key commitment of the new Liberal government and will be an early measure of their ability to implement many promises that were considered "immediate" and urgent in their platform. However, there is also little question that bringing in these refugees — families in crisis — is essential, and I certainly hope Canada and this government can meet the challenge.
To that end, I've been struck over recent weeks by the efforts that so many Canadians are making to help. Families are organizing at our schools — check out Schools Welcome Refugees site:
In addition there the efforts of Lifeline Syria, and many organizations as well as all levels of government. What Canadians want is a government willing to help open the doors and to do its part.
Details of how the government will reach their goal have been slow to trickle out. It is good to hear that the military is already prepared to house 12,000 Syrian refugees — nearly half of the 25,000 that the Liberal government has promised to bring to the country by the end of the year. But what then? How long will they be housed there? How long before the children can settle into schools, 'till families can receive the support they will undoubtedly need to adjust and recover from the trauma of their escape from Syria?
What's also not clear is: what about the rest? The NDP committed to continuing to allow entry of 9,000 Syrian refugees per year over the coming years. We need to lift the cap on private sponsorships, eliminate quotas and bureaucratic obstacles.
I am grateful to my friend Blair for reminding me that the Liberals won the campaign! My intent was not to engage in anti-Harper spin but rather to situate this issue, and the politics of it. There were and are competing views in this country on how we should welcome and embrace our new Canadians. I believe that some of the politics raised by Mr. Harper around fear and terrorism are still with us, and, as a result of how he used those issues during the campaign, may well be with us for some time. I worry we will pay a price for that division as a society.
That said, Blair and Marit point out that most observers say the government won't be able to meet its ambitious targets to admit 25,000 refugees by year-end. We will see. What I know they will do, is move heaven and earth, use the resources of our public service, military and private sector suppliers to get them out of harm's way and get them here. They will work with international agencies such as the UN to identify the needy. They will do the background and medical checks. And, with enough political will and participation by communities, governments and individuals across Canada, we can house them temporarily in places such as military bases and other resources. We can get them language, vocational and other training while they are there. We can activate community groups and individuals across Canada who can help accommodate, educate, employ and assist them.
Marit points to one such group who will help, and there are hundreds more. Powerful stuff. And we can do so in a way that is safe and effective.
It is massive. It won’t be perfect. But when it is done, Canadians will be proud of the accomplishment. And we will have helped 25,000 people in harm's way become Canadians. We did it with the Vietnamese boat people a generation ago. We can do it again.
We all agree that the current situation in Syria is a humanitarian crisis, and that more needs to be done to ensure that those who are most deserving of protection have an opportunity to come to Canada.
But, politically speaking, there is little risk to the government in highlighting this promise, even if it doesn’t ultimately make the December 31st target (or now knows that the target is almost impossible to meet). The Trudeau Liberals will still be in the honeymoon phase with the electorate and, because this is a humanitarian crisis, it won’t be politically compelling for any opposition party to start shouting “broken promise” if the government misses its own deadline.
The more important test for this government is to demonstrate managerial competence in its early days. Even if the government misses the 25,000 target by the end of the year, pundits or voters won’t punish them provided that there is evidence that Syrian refugees are being re-settled in substantial numbers and progress is being made. But if the re-settlement effort appears disorganized, or fails to get off the ground entirely, that will significantly erode the new government’s credibility.
That’s the biggest political pitfall facing the Liberals on this initiative. That’s why I expect the Liberals know that it is more important to get this done right, rather than fast.
Well, we shall see. I agree with Richard that there's massive interest in getting this done, and moving heaven and earth to that end. I also agree that the Harper Conservatives' divisive brand of politics will have lingering effects, though I think it backfired on them to a great extent, sliding many of their voters over to the Liberals in those final days.
They aren't the first government to face challenges in their first few weeks, and I believe they will be given some wiggle-room if they can't meet the targets. But they must have everything in place. They must show they are thinking forward not only to getting refugees into Canada but how they will survive here in the coming months and years.
Further to that, they need to show that the change does not begin and end with the Syrian refugees. Ultimately, we need to put an end to the politics of religious discrimination in this country.
The Liberals won the 'change election' and in doing so, the privilege of undoing the damage done by the Harper Conservatives. How far are they willing to take that mandate? The NDP will be there to remind them of the millions of progressive voters who expect real and meaningful change, and an end to the politics of division of which Richard speaks.