In House Panel - Phase One is over, now to Phase Two!
The photo of young Alan Kurdi's lifeless body face-down on a beach in Turkey threw a wrench into the federal election campaign this week. The focus of the campaign quickly shifted from the "r" word — recession — and the news that Canada's economy had faltered in the first half of the year to our refugee policy with respect to Syria.
The parties began to spar over who was offering the best plan to help the tens of thousands of Syrians who are fleeing their country divided as it is by civil war and warring factions.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said refugee policy alone is "not a solution to this problem," adding that Canada will admit more refugees from the region but must also continue to "fight the root cause of the problem and that is the violent campaign being waged against these people by ISIS."
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said that Canada should resettle 25,000 refugees from Syria as soon as possible.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said the photos will "define an era." He added that whileChris Alexander "has some questions to answer," assigning blame will not solve the problem. He also promised to bring in 10,000 Syrian refugees immediately with the option for more in the future.
"The international community has failed. Canada has failed. I just want us to start acting now, as do all Canadians," he said.
Our In House panelists Rosemary Barton, host of Power & Politics on CBC News Network, and Postmedia and National Post columnist Andrew Coyne are here to discuss:
Chris Hall: What impact could the Syrian refugee crisis have on the election campaign?
Andrew Coyne: I think there was some expectation — or dare I say hope — on the part of some strategists and supporters of the other parties that there would be some knock out blow here. Ah-ha gotcha! 'We found that this poor child died because of some terrible decision by Chris Alexander personally.' There was a pretty concerted effort to demonise him, which rather fizzled when it turned out it wasn't anything to do with him.
But the larger issue which is how the government has handled the refugee crisis in general, which has certainly brought out a reasonably lively debate in the last day or so and we'll see if that continues.
Rosemary Barton: I think that Canadians are watching this important story — and are feeling it — which I don't think we should underestimate during an election. I think what it opens up is an examination of the government's record on how they've dealt with refugees. Yes, they have brought in tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees, certainly. But they've done very little for Syrians.
And perhaps, more importantly, they have, at the same time, increased classes of other people that they're willing to bring in whether it be economic immigrants, family class immigrants, and decrease the number of refugees since 2005.
I think the story that they need to tell becomes more complicated by that — the lower refugee numbers. And I am, still now, confused as to why the government is not looking for ways to speed up the process for these 20,000 Syrians that they want to bring in. I don't know what they have to lose by doing that.
Chris Hall: One of the things that stuck out for me — not to get into a numbers game — was the vastly different approaches that parties said they would take. With the two opposition parties talking about much higher levels immediately versus the campaign commitment of the Conservatives which is for 10,000 more over the course of four years.
Well, I'm not sure I agree. It depends, I suppose, on which end of the telescope you're looking from as to whether they're vastly different. The Conservatives had already pledged 10,000 more by 2017. And last month they said they'd add another 10,000 to that. So that's 20,000, some of which would come from Iraq. The Liberals said they'd bring in 25,000 now, although I don't think that means 'today,' it means over a period of time, and the NDP said 10,000 now and maybe some more later.
I do think there are differences between the parties. The Liberals do have the more 'liberal' plan. But when you look at the scale of the challenge we're facing — look at the 11 million refugees just from Iraq — if you look at the kinds of numbers of Germany is taking in, or Sweden, you'd say they're all grouped around a fairly conservative number.
Rosemary Barton: I think the problem, as well, is that traditionally we have shown ourselves rather good at this. We've talked about obviously the boat people, we've talked about Kosovo, all these instances not only were the numbers significant but the periods in time when we were able to get people here was actually pretty fast.
There aren't actually a lot of reasons why it can't happen faster. One thing to watch for over the week, again, is if there is any pressure being put on the Conservatives, particularly, by Canadians to say 'you know what this answer really isn't good enough.'