The New Democrats and Liberals say Canada needs to do more to alleviate the Syrian refugee crisis before and after the federal election.
Both parties announced plans on Saturday to bring tens of thousands of refugees to Canada before next year, as aftershocks continue from a disturbing photograph of a lifeless Syrian boy who washed up on a Turkish beach.
The New Democrats said Canadians of all political stripes need to immediately band together to help refugees, a plea that was lauded by the Liberals.
“This is not a time for partisanship, this is a time for all Canadians to work together,” said Ontario Liberal candidate Dr. Jane Philpott.
“We don’t think this should wait until a new government is elected, that’s still six weeks away. During that time there are of course people in great need, we need to move immediately.”
The Liberals repeated calls to expand Canada’s intake to 25,000 refugees from Syria through immediate, direct sponsorship by the federal government — this time saying it could be done before Jan. 1.
The Liberals also promised, if elected, to invest at least an additional $100 million this fiscal year to increase refugee processing, sponsorship and settlement services in Canada, and another $100 million to United Nations refugee and food assistance programs.
The NDP, meanwhile, plans to reach out to the Conservative government to ask it to adopt an “accelerated plan” to bring more than 46,000 government-sponsored refugees to Canada by 2019, including 10,000 by the end of 2015.
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said the plan would involve appointing a Syrian refugee co-ordinator as soon as possible to organize government and departmental resources to facilitate entry and settlement of refugees.
It would also include increasing the number of immigration agencies on the ground, expediting private sponsorships with no cap, providing health care and issuing temporary residence permits for Syrians staying with family.
Dewar estimated that the New Democrat plan would cost $74 million to bring 10,000 refugees to Canada by the end of this year, and another $63.8 million to bring in 9,000 each year until 2019.
“Time and time again, Canadians have responded to humanitarian disasters with generosity,” Dewar said.
“It’s money well worth investing. I think most people would understand that.”
He said he doesn’t know how Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government will respond, but that Canada can’t afford to wait until the federal election is over to start bringing in its share of refugees as outlined by the United Nations.
Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has said Canada will accept 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next three years in response to the UN refugee agency’s global appeal to resettle 100,000 refugees worldwide, but Dewar said more must be done.
Millions have fled war-ravaged Syria since 2011, but fewer than 2,400 Syrians have been resettled in Canada during the last two years, part of an overall commitment to accept 11,300 people.
The NDP and Liberal announcements come in response to the global reaction over the drowning deaths of two young Syrian boys and their mother on Wednesday, who apparently wanted to join family in British Columbia.
The incident, along with the shocking photograph of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, has prompted refugee and human rights advocates to call on the federal government to ease paperwork barriers and boost resources to help Syrian refugees settle in Canada.
Pro-refugee marches and demonstrations were planned in over a dozen Canadian cities through the Labour day weekend, including events in Montreal and Toronto.
In Montreal, several hundred people marched downtown Saturday afternoon, brandishing signs reading “refugees welcome,” or bearing the now-famous photo of the drowned Syrian toddler with the caption “our child.”
Catherine Ouellet, who brought her four-year-old son, broke down in tears as she described how the photo touched her deeply.
“I find Canada isn’t doing its part,” she said. “Please, let’s open our doors to refugees and ask questions later. This is an emergency situation.”