Focus On The Big Picture

The Syrian refugee program looks like it is going to be a success, at least in part because the Liberals are not doing it the way they promised. That willingness to adapt to reality needs to be applied in other areas.

The federal government’s Syrian refugee website does a great job of showing the progress.

The “Milestones and Key Figures” section provides a continuously updated and commendably transparent set of data showing how many refugees have arrived or are in process.

It also shows how many refugees are arriving on each government chartered flight, and the communities to which they are headed across Canada.

The flight data shows a gathering momentum. The flights, each holding up to 300 passengers, land in Montreal or Toronto for initial processing. There were just seven before Christmas, but then the pace picked up with 14 more arriving before the end of the year. After a pause over the New Year’s weekend, it has picked up again to two or three flights a day.

The Liberals originally promised 25,000 government sponsored refugees by the end of 2015, then backed off to 10,000. They did not come close. The actual number was 2,439. This was in addition to more than 3,400 privately sponsored refugees, a number anticipated to grow to 10,000.

At the current pace of flight arrivals, the numbers can be expected to grow rapidly—to a total of perhaps 35,000 by the end of February. This would meet the government’s most recently revised target.

It also reflects an impressive effort by the various departments to inspect, validate, process, transport, and receive such substantial numbers on a daily basis. As a practical matter, it is doubtful that many of the receiving communities could absorb a much more rapid flow.

That is not a problem in Nova Scotia. Through Jan. 7th we have received 123 via government charters, compared to other smaller provinces such as New Brunswick with 149 and Saskatchewan with 364.

The provincial government’s goal of 750-1,500 (including privately sponsored) is too modest. Our proportionate share of 35,000 would be about 1,000, and we need to do better than our proportionate share. Our goal should be at least 2,000, and more than that if communities continue to be enthusiastic recipients.

As for the federal government, it can without embarrassment declare the operation a success. Canadians have rallied around this project. Being a couple of months late doesn’t matter. The general idea was good and implementation is proceeding smoothly, so let’s not sweat the details.

It is to be fervently hoped that some other campaign commitments will be treated as high level direction rather than a precise formula.

First on the list is the evolving promise concerning the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (PDF). Trudeau’s initial response in June was to “affirm our unwavering support for the TRC’s recommendations, and call on the Government of Canada to take immediate action to implement them.”

By the time the Liberal platform was written, someone had noticed that many of the recommendations involved other levels of government—so the promise was amended to say “working alongside them”.

When the final report was released in December, they also noticed that the recommendations required actions from yet other parties such as health care providers, universities, churches, and the corporate sector. So, “other vital partners” were added to the list to be worked with.

Many of the recommendations represent valuable steps in support of better health, education, economic outcomes, and justice for indigenous communities. But some of the proposals need serious scrutiny. Canadians are supportive of better outcomes for our Indigenous peoples, but many may feel they did not vote to, for example:

  • “…repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples”. Does that mean that Canadian sovereignty, which was passed on to us by Britain, is also repudiated?
  • Agree that “Aboriginal title claims are accepted once the Aboriginal claimant has established occupation over a particular territory at a particular point in time”.
    Establish a statutory holiday for Truth and Reconciliation.
  • Add to the Oath of Citizenship to read “…I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples…”

Hopefully the Prime Minister will, in accordance with one of his many other promises, allow full and meaningful parliamentary scrutiny of these and other undertakings.

Most troubling is the undertaking, repeated in December, to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (PDF).

This is a can of worms. When it was adopted in 2007, the Declaration was opposed by Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand—the main countries that would actually have to deal with its implications.

Its provisions assert Indigenous rights to, among other things:

  • “…self-determination … including the right to determine political status”. Does this mean that the Cree can vote to separate all of Northern Quebec from Canada?
  • Ways and means to finance these autonomous functions, presumably from non-Indigenous Canadians.
  • Be consulted through their institutions in order to obtain their “ informed consent before adopting legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.” Doesn’t that include most provincial and federal legislation? Does it effectively create an additional legislative chamber?
  • Own lands, territories, and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise acquired, and be compensated for any lands “traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been taken, occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.”

Since first nations bands have claimed more than 100% of British Columbia, that would seem to mean that all of it would have to be bought back. Pretty tough when almost nobody can afford a single house in Vancouver.

A comprehensive program to improve the lives of our First Nations, Metis, and Inuit citizens is a good goal. It should be done in a way that Canadians will support. The Truth and Reconciliation Report provides a good starting point, but not a definitive roadmap.

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