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The Liberals have broken their promise to bring in 25,000 refugees here by year's end. Despite that they've gotten a pretty easy ride in the media. But should they have promised such quick settlement to begin with, and would Stephen Harper have been so easily forgiven?  Richard Mahoney, John Capobianco and Marit Stiles on that in the ONW Salon.


Marit Stiles:

The Liberal government learned an important lesson over the past few weeks, and it's one that we could have all seen coming: winning an election is the easy part: the real test is in governing.

It's a whole lot harder, simply put, and the Liberals’ promises during the election were plentiful, possibly even over the top. Their strategy was to essentially try to one-up the NDP on issues as they arose, including, not surprisingly, their response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Now, let me be perfectly clear: I think that we can and must do everything in our power to help Syrians fleeing war and violence. It's incumbent upon us. And so, in that sense, I was rather happy to see the parties battling it out during the election to see who could do more, promise more, and achieve more, faster.

But it is not surprising, then, that at the end of the day the Liberals' plan may have been ever so slightly unrealistic. Indeed, the new plan, and its targets/timelines, resembles very closely what the NDP had put forward as a realistic and achievable but bold plan of action.

Nonetheless, I think this is an important time for all parties to unite in efforts to move aid and refugee assistance/welcoming forward as quickly and smoothly as possible. I've been working with schools in my area to find ways to help parents navigate the school board system, to fundraise to bring families to Canada, and ensure that our school system is ready to offer the support these students will need. We need all levels of government working tightly together, with the opposition, to ensure not one single refugee that is coming to Canada falls through the cracks.


John Capobianco:

This of course became a significant election issue the day the dreadful picture of the lifeless body of little Alan Kurdi showed up on the front pages. The parties were quick to jump on Stephen Harper for lacking compassion with his refugee policies, so it became a race to see who could bring in the most in the fastest time.

I remember mentioning in an earlier discussion we had on the topic of the Liberals’ election pledge to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by year end that it, post the events of Paris, was something the PM should reconsider. Not so much reconsider bringing in refugees, as Canada has always been a leader when it comes to showing compassion globally and opening our doors when needed, but rather to reconsider the timelines Mr. Trudeau placed on himself and his government to bring in the refugees within two and a half months of being elected.


Richard Mahoney:

Let's put the Liberal promise to bring in 25,000 refugees in context. The Harper government moved slowly on refugees in general, and campaigned specifically against the ambitious targets of Justin Trudeau, telling us that terrorists would be among them and we had much to fear. They used the issue to strike fear, and it worked with some people. But more Canadians preferred the ambitious, humanitarian approach that Justin Trudeau outlined ﹘ that Canada could and should do more.

We are a nation of immigrants, other than our First Nations. We have always welcomed folks from around the globe. We built a tolerant, pluralist society that did its part to help those in need. Marit is right to say that Thomas Mulcair and the NDP promised a less ambitious approach to the resettlement of Syrian refugees - he promised 10,000 by year end, a further 9,000 next year. But at least those two parties were similar in overall approach.

And when the new government came to office less than a month ago, they got to work on meeting this target. Canadians rallied to the goal - thousands of Canadians are raising money to help, and organizations are on the ground helping with settlement, housing, language training and vocational training. They have responded with generosity.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, many urged the government to suspend the efforts. Many prominent Conservative politicians led this charge. In the US, Republicans whipped up fear of the refugees, too. So in the face of all of that, the government decides to extend the deadline by sixty days. I believe they could have done things a little faster and actually got all 25,000 in the country by year's end, or most of them.

But in the context of concern that comes after Paris, and with a view to the massive effort so many will put in over the next months to help these refugees once they are here, the brief delay is more than justified, and helps build public support for the initiative.


Marit Stiles:

I agree with Richard and John that the delay was expected and is not without merit.  But I also think we need to not shy away, as Canadians, from demanding that our new government live up to its commitments. Indeed, I would expect nothing less from our NDP Leader in opposition. Mr. Mulcair and the NDP deserve credit for drawing attention to the injustice of the effective exclusion of most "unaccompanied" young Sunni men from the refugee-selection prioritization that was announced by the government.

Indeed, we should expect nothing less from our opposition than to read and re-read every line and dissect all the small print in every announcement coming from the government on every issue.

The government is, ultimately, accepting 15,000 fewer refugees into Canada before January 1st than they had promised. Again, it's not surprising that they would run into roadblocks, but I also think they may have caved a little to the kinds of concerns Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall was waving around about safety and security in the wake of the Paris attacks. Was that justified? I'm not an expert.

While we must focus on the immediate crisis and doing everything we can and should, I also want to applaud the NDP for keeping the focus on our broader objectives, such as the role Canada must play in stopping the flow of arms, funds and foreign fighters to ISIS.


John Capobianco:

Marit is correct about the Liberals learning an important lesson, but I think it is rich for Richard to criticize the Conservatives, as it was Harper who, before the election was called and before the issue became so hot, promised to bring in 10,000 by the end of the year. He did not need an election to make that promise - he had already committed to it.

However, back to the issue at hand, which is about the Liberals' broken promise. I am a firm believer that the promises you make during an election should be kept after you win and form government. That is until the reality of governing kicks in and special circumstances happen which take precedence like a major dip in the economy, which wasn't foreseen, or international developments such as the Paris attack.

In these kinds of circumstances, it does make sense for the government of the day to re-evaluate not only their election promises but also overall policies to accommodate the circumstances.

So, as I said in an earlier exchange, I would not fault the PM if he chose to course-correct his commitment regarding the timing of when he was going to bring in the 25,000 refugees. I will stand by that and applaud the PM for deciding that it makes more sense to bring in those who need it the most now and continue to ensure the safety of Canadians remains paramount by doing proper screening and bring in the rest in due course.


Richard Mahoney:

John, Stephen Harper made little effort to bring 10,000 refugees in. He was not on track to do so - not even close. He had not called on Canadian communities to open their hearts and homes. He was pushed to do so during the campaign, it is true. But he also then shamelessly said more could not be done because of terrorism and security issues.

Two things need to be said. First, that extensive screening by the UN and Canadian officials has been done, on all grounds, including security,

Secondly, there are folks out there who are fearful. Some of the things Stephen Harper said and did - the focus on terror and linking it to Syrian refugees; the odious “barbaric cultural practices hotline”; the exploitation of the niqab issue; opened up a strain of intolerance and fear in some. The attacks in Paris made others wonder whether the government was being too ambitious.

One of the responsibilities of the government is to build on our tolerance, nurture our generous nature and make sure Canadians embrace this effort. That will ensure success. An extra few days to get this done is not the important part: getting it done is.

And most reasonable observers think the Trudeau government is handling this correctly. For example, a recent editorial in the prestigious Washington Post hailed Canada’s leadership on this issue:

As the article points out, the plan is ambitious, timely and in the great traditions of this country. That is something of which we can all be proud.





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