Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is calling on his election rivals to put politics aside and convene an all-party meeting on Canada’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis.
At a campaign stop Sunday in Laval, Que., Trudeau told reporters the Liberals were reaching out to NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper in the hope of depoliticizing the debate about the humanitarian disaster unfolding in the Middle East.
“There’s obviously a need for Canada to do more,” said Trudeau, adding he wants to find a way “to not make this as political as it has become.”
His plea for nonpartisanship didn’t prevent him, however, from accusing the Conservative government of bungling the refugee file.
Noting that Germany had accepted thousands of refugees over the weekend, Trudeau said: “That’s what you can do when you have political will. Unfortunately we’ve seen right now a government that hasn’t stepped forward as much as many Canadians would have liked it to.”
The chances of all three major party leaders agreeing to the sit-down appeared slim on Sunday. Asked whether Harper would consent to the meeting, Conservative spokesman Stephen Lecce didn’t answer the question directly.
“The government is already seized with this situation,” he wrote in an email. “We will continue to take action on delivering humanitarian aid, resettling refugees, and participating in the international military coalition against ISIS.”
The response from the NDP suggested Mulcair wouldn’t participate in a meeting unless Harper was there.
“Mr. Mulcair’s objective is to meet with Mr. Harper because he is the one who can act,” said senior campaign adviser Brad Lavigne in an email.
He said Mulcair had requested to speak directly to the Conservative leader to discuss Ottawa’s humanitarian response, including the possibility of using the military to transport refugees to Canada.
The plight of migrants fleeing war zones in Syria and Iraq has dominated the Canadian election campaign since Thursday, when photographs of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi’s body made headlines around the world. Kurdi, along with his brother and mother, drowned early Wednesday while the Syrian family was attempting to cross from Turkey to the nearby Greek island of Kos in a small boat. Pictures of the dead child washed up on a Turkish beach quickly led to calls for Western governments to do more to assist refugees.
Canada’s political leaders have put forward different strategies to deal with the emergency.
Prior to the election call, the Conservative government had announced a target of accepting 23,000 refugees from Iraq and 11,300 from Syria. Only about 2,500 Syrians have arrived so far, while 22,000 Iraqis have been resettled.
Last month Harper pledged to take in an additional 10,000 people from the region over four years, but his party emphasizes that continued military action against the Islamic State is vital to any solution.
The NDP has promised to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015 — and another 9,000 a year for each of the following four years. To streamline the process, they would appoint a Syrian refugee co-ordinator and boost Canada’s presence of diplomatic and immigration officials in the region.
The Liberals have promised to “take immediate action” to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada through government-sponsored applications, a plan they estimate would cost $100 million.