MLIGDC774x427-May2-16The embrace of Syrian refugees is the best thing that has happened to Canada in a generation, writes Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.

May will argue in favour of the resolution “Mass resettlement to Canada is the best thing for the country and the best thing for Syrian refugees” at the next Great Canadian Debate, happening May 2 at the Canadian War Museum. David Frum will argue against the motion.

By Elizabeth May, April 27, 2016

Honestly, the resolution as stated is not one I can support, but I am arguing in the affirmative.  So, let me declare the obvious.  The best thing for refugees – whether from Syria today or Vietnam in another generation – is never to have been refugees at all.  Wherever we are born, our home, our familiar language and culture are cherished.  A childhood without violence and loss is always preferable. A life scarred by the deep turmoil that causes people to leave all they know and strike out for the unknown is never the “best” choice.

So let us assume that the proposition precludes any gainsaying on how the Syrian refugee crisis might have been avoided. Let us start from the reality in which we find ourselves.  Over four million have been made refugees from Syria clamouring the hostile shores of the Mediterranean, seeking admission to safer countries, and struggling every foot of the way.  Let us start from the reality that a further six million are internally displaced within Syria, who, until the war ends, are likely to join their fellow citizens pressing outward to find safety in some other country.

The best thing for refugees – whether from Syria today or Vietnam in another generation – is never to have been refugees at all.

In this bleak reality, a future in Canada is a miraculous option.  Syrian refugee families arriving in Canada will find other settled Syrians.  We have at least a generation of those who have already made Canada their home.  The many compassionate refugee sponsoring organizations, self-organizing in communities across Canada, from church groups and synagogues and mosques, are making new homes ready for the beleaguered refugee families.  Those with language skills are volunteering to help in the transition.  Jobs are being found, school materials readied and volunteers to help with everything from how to shop for what you need to how to pack a school lunch. The welcome is warm and thoughtful.

Canada will benefit in many ways from the acceptance of tens of thousands of new Canadians.  First, let’s consider the economic benefits. We know that Canadian fertility rates do not replace the population.  We know that the demographic shifts in Canada currently place a larger burden on the fewer who are young to care for a growing population on seniors.  We need more young people and we need more workers. As the CEOs of the German automakers said of the million Syrian refugees welcomed into Germany “This is an economic miracle.” Of Syrian families I have helped, a large number have advanced degrees and professions. They have skills already from working before the war tore their country apart. They will not be dependent for long.

In this bleak reality, a future in Canada is a miraculous option.

But it is likely the intangible benefits will exceed the economic ones.  How can we measure the benefit to our global reputation of the images of Canadians, including our prime minister, opening arms to embrace the refugees?  Can we ever measure the impact on those who seek to stir up hatred and violence against Canada when those images are fresh in the minds of those around the world who are susceptible to arguments that the world shuns them?  How much does the current government’s welcome of refugees help protect us, by any measure, no matter how small, of the threat of extremism?

Even more so, does the current citizen effort to support the government’s resolve to welcome tens of thousands of refugees rekindle in us a compassionate energy?  I have seen moneys raised overnight to help people we have never met.  The marshalling of resources has been impressive – from finding homes to furnishing those homes, to planning for transportation and health check-ups.  Every minute of volunteer commitment reminds us that we can accomplish anything when we set our minds to it.  What a tonic to the neo-Liberal determinism that we are Hobbesian in our choices. That life is nasty, brutish and short and that the surest way for a politician to find favour in a voter is to promise them that selfishness will be rewarded.

In this aspect of a quickening of the heart of democracy we may find the greatest benefits. This is why it is the best thing that has happened in Canada in a generation.  It reminds us of who we are and what we are capable of doing.

Elizabeth May is the leader of the Green Party of Canada.

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