Too many moving parts to place price tag on Syrian refugee plan: McCallum

Health concerns, security checks, housing and transport requirements are all elements of a plan to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by year's end set to be discussed by the Liberal cabinet on Thursday for a decision on the way forward.

OTTAWA — Health concerns, security checks, housing and transport requirements are all elements of a plan to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by year’s end set to be discussed by the Liberal cabinet on Thursday for a decision on the way forward.

But how much it is all going to cost is one detail that will take longer to reveal, Immigration Minister John McCallum said Tuesday.

In their platform, the Liberals budgeted $100 million for the ambitious resettlement program for this fiscal year, including money for settlement services, and $100 million for next year. A further $100 million was pledged to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The Liberals have not said when and how they’d allocate the promised funding. McCallum said there are a huge number of variables at play in terms of how the plan will be implemented, but Canadians will get the full cost accounting, eventually.

“It’s an ongoing process, but what I can guarantee to you, absolutely, is that we will not keep Canadians in the dark on what the costs are and that I can say with 100 per cent certainty,” he told reporters after the first meeting of the cabinet subcommittee tasked with drafting the resettlement plan.

“What I cannot say today precisely the moment at which we will be able to release those costs, but certainly, it won’t be forever, because our commitment is only two months away.”

The Liberals still insist that the end of the year remains the target date for bringing the 25,000 to Canada, despite observations from many resettlement organizations that the short timeline will put massive pressures on local resources.

For its part, the UNHCR said Tuesday it is working with the Canadian government to identify refugees for resettlement in Lebanon and Jordan and efforts are also underway to find others in Turkey. The three countries have absorbed over three-quarters of the four million people registered as refugees by the United Nations since the civil war broke out in Syria in 2011.

Earlier Tuesday, the agency said one element of the program would give Syrians refugees temporary residency permits until their cases have been fully processed in Canada, after which they’d receive permanent residency and then be eligible for Canadian citizenship in four years time.

But the UN body later said those comments were premature and no final decisions had been made, which McCallum confirmed.

Still, the High Commissioner for Refugees called Canada’s commitment a model for the world.

“Too many vulnerable refugees are languishing in countries neighbouring Syria, caught in a downward spiral of poverty and risk as they struggle to meet their basic needs,” Antonio Guterres said in a statement.

“We need many more ambitious programs like this to offer Syrians a chance to start their lives anew.”

McCallum said the government currently has about 10,000 applications already in the pipeline, following commitments made by the previous Conservative government to Syrian refugee resettlement. They had pledged that many spaces, initially over three years, to be filled by a mix of private sponsors and government. To date, just over 3,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada since the government first began reaching out in 2013.

McCallum said it remains to be seen whether that group would form part of the 25,000.

“Obviously we need way more than that to meet our goal,” he said.

Among the elements under consideration is how the refugees would be brought to Canada. One option is private airlines: Air Canada contacted the government immediately after last month’s election to offer the use of some its planes.

Housing may be partially left up to the military.

“As a matter of prudent planning, the Canadian Armed Forces are currently reviewing accommodations available at bases and wings should the CAF be called upon to provide assistance in that regard,” spokesman Evan Koronewski said in an email.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The union representing workers at the Olymel meat processing plant in Red Deer confirmed the death of a worker on Wednesday. (Advocate file photo)
Union confirms death of worker from Olymel plant

An investigation by the UFCW 401 local has confirmed a fourth death… Continue reading

Sunterra Market is preparing to open at Bower Place. (Photo from Facebook)
Sunterra Market to open in Red Deer in March

Bower Place to welcome grocery shoppers

Weather brief (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
Red Deer experiences driest winter in 99 years

The city only had 9.6 millimeters of precipitation between December and February

The number of positive cases of COVID-19 has been climbing up since Jan. 20 at Red Deer's Olymel meat processing plant. (File photo by Advocate Staff)
Some Olymel workers return for training, plant reopening date not set

Union calls for delay of opening as workers fear for safety

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, March 2, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservative MP David Sweet joins chorus calling for end to COVID-19 restrictions

OTTAWA — A Conservative MP has joined the chorus of voices calling… Continue reading

The Onslow Belmont Fire Brigade is seen in Lower Onslow, N.S., Wednesday, April 22, 2020. The RCMP says two officers who fired towards a civilian and another RCMP officer during last year’s mass shooting will remain on administrative duties until internal inquiries are completed .THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
N.S. RCMP who shot at firehall on administrative duty during internal reviews of case

HALIFAX — The RCMP says two officers who fired towards a civilian… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. Efforts to increase Canada's ability to produce vaccines is among over 100 projects receiving new federal money. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Over 100 new projects to get $518 million in federal research funding

OTTAWA — Efforts to boost Canada’s ability to produce vaccines are among… Continue reading

Hassan Diab, whose allegations of involvement in a 1980 synagogue bombing were dismissed by French judges for lack of evidence, listens during a press release on the release of an external review on his extradition by the Justice Department on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Friday, July 26, 2019. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is signalling that Canada will stand up for Diab, an Ottawa sociology professor facing trial in France, following calls from human-rights advocates to intervene. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Trudeau signals support for Hassan Diab as Ottawa professor appeals case in France

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is signalling Canada will stand up… Continue reading

NDP MP Niki Ashton stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday, April 26, 2018. Two prominent Jewish advocacy groups are voicing anti-Semitism concerns ahead of a public conversation between NDP MP Niki Ashton and former U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Jewish groups raise anti-Semitism concerns ahead of NDP MP’s chat with Corbyn

OTTAWA — Two prominent Jewish advocacy groups are voicing concerns about anti-Semitism… Continue reading

Major-General Dany Fortin, left, looks on as Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. The Public Health Agency of Canada has set aside up to $5 billion to pay for COVID-19 vaccines. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Public Health Agency of Canada budgets $5B for COVID-19 vaccines, treatments

OTTAWA — The Public Health Agency of Canada expects to spend up… Continue reading

A vial of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a family doctor office, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021 in Paris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP -Christophe Ena
Trudeau ‘optimistic’ that timeline for rollout of COVID vaccines can be accelerated

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed optimism Wednesday that his government’s timeline for… Continue reading

UCP MLA for Lacombe-Ponoka Ron Orr. (File photo)
MLA Ron Orr: Benchmarks were achieved but goalposts were moved

Orr responds to concerns, calls on province to fully open Step 2

Most Read