In a week that saw the Syrian refugee crisis suddenly become a hot-button election issue, derailing the campaigns of the major political parties, the Liberals and NDP are urging the government to accept thousands of more refugees by the end of this year.
Candidates from those parties addressed the media on Saturday to promise more action on refugee claims. The New Democrats are calling for the resettlement of 10,000 government-sponsored refugees by 2015's end, while the Liberals say they are aiming to accept 25,000 by Jan. 1, 2016.
"We have reached out to the government now because we do not need to wait until October to start this work," NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said in Ottawa on Saturday morning. Dewar was joined by international development critic Hélène Laverdière in calling for a plan of action.
- Refugee crisis coverage, rivals' criticism frustrates Conservative campaign
- Harper wants to keep refugee crisis focus on big picture: Chris Hall
- Canadian cities, provinces make their pitch to help Syrian refugees
"Let's agree on a Syrian refugee coordinator right now, and put them in charge of a multi-departmental effort to make this happen. This is a good place to start. But it is not enough," he said.
An NDP government would also, according to Dewar and Laverdière, fast-track private sponsorships and respond to the United Nations' appeal to resettle more refugees from the Syrian civil war with a plan to resettle 9,000 government-sponsored refugees each year for the next four years.
These are part of a five-point action plan Dewar said the NDP announced earlier this week.
"Make no mistake — this is an ambitious agenda. But when it comes to saving lives, Canadians are ambitious."
Dewar told reporters it would cost $74 million to resettle 10,000 refugees this year, and $63.8 million annually to resettle 9,000 refugees each year until 2019.
Liberals pledge $200M to support refugees
The Liberals, meanwhile, pledged to invest an additional $100 million in fiscal year 2015/2016 to increase refugee processing, sponsorship and settlement services in Canada.
That money would also go toward increasing the capacity of Canada's missions abroad, including more visa officers on the ground to screen refugees in camps, Liberal candidate Jane Philpott said during a teleconference call. She was joined by her party's foreign affairs critic Marc Garneau.
Should they form government, the Grits would provide another $100 million to the United Nations' refugee agency.
Philpott also called on the government to "end the practice of prioritizing certain ethnic and religious minorities from Syria."
"Every refugee registered by the UNHCR or Turkey is vulnerable," she said.
The Conservative government announced in January that Canada would resettle 10,000 more Syrian refugees over the next three years in response to the UN's request to increase admission numbers.
Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced he would be "suspending" his re-election campaign on Thursday to focus on his ministerial role after reports emerged that relatives of Alan Kurdi, the toddler in the photo that re-alerted the world to the tragedies of the Syrian refugee crisis, had been trying to get to Canada.