Immigration fades as election issue despite Alan Kurdi tragedy

Despite the viral photograph of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned, immigration is not sticking as a key Canadian election issue.

Economy, health care top voters' concerns, B.C. candidates say

Alan Kurdi's tragic death captivated a nation, but the Syrian refugee crisis hasn't become much of an election issue. (Tima Kurdi/Facebook)

Despite the viral photograph of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned in September, immigration is not sticking as a key issue in the Canadian election, according to candidates in the riding where his family lives.

"I've been knocking on thousands of doors and I've been hearing really two main themes ... affordable housing or transit and health care," said Fin Donnelly, the NDP candidate for B.C.'s Port Moody-Coquitlam.

Fin Donnelly (right), meeting voters in his riding in Port Moody-Coquitlam, tried to help bring Alan Kurdi and his family to Canada. (CBC)

Donnelly made headlines earlier in the campaign for his efforts to expedite the process to have the Kurdi family gain refugee status in Canada and be reunited with their relatives in B.C.

"With the Syrian refugee crisis, when that story broke that definitely was an issue," he said. "We had definitely heard from people in the riding. They mainly were asking how they could help."

As a result the NDP is looking at improving how refugees are reunited with their families in Canada.

Still an important issue

Despite acknowledging that the issue has waned, Donnelly defends its importance in this election, compared to earlier campaigns.

"It wasn't as strong a focal point as it has become now," he said.

Still, the Liberal candidate in the riding, Jessie Adcock, is not hearing much about it at the door.

Port Moody-Coquitlam Liberal candidate Jessie Adcock says the issues top-of-mind for voters she meets are housing, health care and transit. (CBC)

"We have seen themes around immigration emerge but the things I hear most now are around transit and housing, health care. Those are the real issues that have really, really stayed."

One political expert isn't surprised the candidates are no longer dealing with many immigration questions.

"It rarely seems to determine an election and that's a bit of a truism from those who study politics," said Richard Price, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia. "It just doesn't tend to get nearly the amount of traction ultimately for a voter that typical domestic issues like the economy do."

UBC political science professor Richard Price says all political parties in Canada have tried to gain votes with the Syrian humanitarian crisis. (CBC)

Price says that because the story of the humanitarian refugee crisis went world-wide with Alan Kurdi's drowning, politicians had no choice but to make it part of their campaigns.

"Candidates have to speak to it because it's a prominent political issue," he said.

"Like any other issues, they're going to try to make political hay if they think there's hay to be made and get some points."

Tim Laidler, the Conservative candidate for Port Moody-Coquitlam, did not make himself available to CBC News for an interview for this story.

With files from Belle Puri


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.