The House

Candidates on the Syrian refugee crisis

Immigration Minister and Conservative candidate Chris Alexander discusses why the military component of Canada's involvement in Syria is critical, then NDPcandidate Paul Dewar and Liberal candidate Marc Garneau respond.
Alan Kurdi and his older brother Galib, seen in an undated family photo, drowned along with their mother trying to escape Syria. (Tima Kurdi/Canadian Press)

Where do the three main parties stand on what Canada's role should be in the Syrian refugee crisis?

We spoke with Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar and Liberal Foreign Affairs critic Marc Garneau.

Why the military campaign in Syria and Iraq is critical:

CA: I think we are actually helping more people with the military campaign than we ever will with refugee resettlement, because it involves the lives of millions. Humanitarian response is equally important...and then refugee resettlement comes on top of that.

We have to give our attention to all three [elements] because refugee resettlement alone is not a solution to Syria's very acute, very large-scale crisis. We cannot count the lives that we save by ensuring Kobani, provinces in southern Iraq, parts of Syria don't fall under the sway of the Islamic State, but it is in the hundreds of thousands and probably millions.

What do the opposition parties think of the military element?

PD: I was [in Iraq] with Marc a year ago and I can tell you, every meeting we were in, whether it was the President of Iraq, the foreign minister of Iraq, officials, UN people — none of them asked us to take part in the bombing campaign, none of them asked us for boots on the ground. 

They did ask us, and pleaded desperately, for us to send humanitarian assistance to help with refugees. I'm just shocked that the government on this particular week would suggest that this is the time wedge on the issue of military involvement. Our bombing campaign amounts to 3.25 per cent of the sorties of the coalition. In other words, we know there are enough fighter jets but we do not have enough humanitarian assistance.

MG: We in the Liberal Party feel the most appropriate military role for Canada was a non-combat role, and that was to provide training for soldiers. The bottom line is that it is the Iraqis themselves who are going to have to beat ISIS.

What impact are the military missions having?

CA: They are making a very bad situation slightly better than it would be if we stood on the sidelines. 

There needs to be a military component, a humanitarian component, and then a refugee resettlement component. Only those three elements together constitute an appropriate response, and the one does not exclude the other. In fact, to do the one properly...we need the military mission in order to prevent ISIS from taking control of Syria or Iraq or both.

Is Canada doing enough?

CA: It is possible to do more and we are doing more. We had a relatively modest commitment to resettling Syrian refugees because the focus was on response in the region — not just for Canada but from the whole international community, from 2011 to last year, and not many refugees were resettled.

MG: It's a matter of political will. If the will is there, you can mobilize a terrific amount of assets.

PD: One thing that's absolutely critical here is we won't be able to do this unless we mobilize diplomatic and bureaucratic assets into the theatre — into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. The government's been ignoring that.