Speaking notes for the Honourable John McCallum, P.C., M.P., Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship at the Governor General of Canada's Forum on Welcoming Syrian Refugees to Canada

Speech

Ottawa, Ontario
December 1, 2015

As delivered

Thank you very much, Your Excellency. Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. It’s a great pleasure for me to be at an event hosted by His Excellency because the two of us go back a bit to the time he was Principal of McGill. I was Dean of Arts. We had a certain fairly promising student by the name of Justin Trudeau.

On the subject of the Prime Minister, allow me to say that it is because of him that I am speaking to you today not as the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, but as the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. In making that change, our Prime Minister sent a strong message that refugees are important, that refugees are always welcome in Canada. I know that this morning I’m on the same page as my boss, which is always comforting.

Having just returned yesterday from a trip to Jordan with my two colleagues, Harjit Sajjan and Jane Philpott, I can tell you I believe more strongly than ever that it is the right thing for Canada to bring 25,000 people hit by the horrors of war and terrorism over here to our wonderful welcoming country of Canada.

My friends, I am not the only one to say this. A recent Washington Post editorial said and I quote, “Canada is showing the way (on refugee settlement) with compassion and sound judgment.” The head of UNHCR said that if there was one country in the world capable of doing what we’re doing, as quickly and as well as we are trying to do, that country is Canada. We have to prove him right, that we are indeed capable of getting this done fast, and more important getting this done right.

I would like to start by thanking the Opposition Members of Parliament. They don’t say we’re doing this perfectly, the Opposition Members. I agree with them. We’re not doing this perfectly, but they have signed on to the principle of this project, as has my predecessor Chris Alexander, and so I can tell you that this is not a partisan project, as evidenced by the participation of the Governor General.

This is a Canadian project, and all parties in the past or the present have brought in thousands of refugees. It is our way. It is not in the slightest bit partisan. Neither, my friends – and this is obvious looking around the room – is this a federal government project. I have spoken to each and every one of my provincial and territorial counterparts. I have spoken to more than 30 mayors. All of them are on side.

We are working together, and I thank them for their support. But it’s not even a governmental project. This project, my friends, is a national project. It is a national project that includes all of you who are not governmental, and who are working very hard in other ways. It includes all of the millions of Canadians across this country.

I want to give you just a very few examples of support that has already come in from people across the country. The first example is in Quebec, where there was a massive collection of clothing, and I can tell you that, according to the YMCA, they filled two rooms of clothing in 24 hours, so a massive effort.

In B.C.’s Lower Mainland, there’s a huge contribution by the Sikh community, with large numbers of lodgings, even education, and much else. Property developers Ian Gillespie in Vancouver and Boardwalk Rental Communities and Mainstreet Equity in Alberta are offering free or subsidized housing. In Toronto, Samantha Jackson and Farzan Yousefian decided to downsize their wedding plans and use the money they saved to sponsor a Syrian family. The Seymour family of PEI cancelled their holiday vacation plans to “help Canada’s smallest province bring Syrian refugee families out of harm’s way.”

My friends, I think this is the tip of the iceberg. This is only the beginning in terms of the support we shall see across this country, but I do ask all of you to give a round of applause to these Canadians who have helped us out in these early days. Tomorrow, I’ll be going to four provinces to meet some of these people, and to thank them for all their work that is just the beginning of the work that is to come.

I want to end with four areas that are more practical in terms of developing a successful national plan. The first is communication. This is not everybody’s style, but my style is to keep Canadians abreast of everything along this path, to tell Canadians about the good things, like the Jordanian planes we are going to be able to get, and the challenges, like the exit permit issue in Lebanon.

We want Canadians to know every step of the way, because it is a Canadian project. They have the right to know, and we will inform them. To that end, we will also be offering weekly briefings – or more frequently if necessary – given by a combination of Jane Philpott, myself and officials. The first of those will be tomorrow, by officials, and we will also have on our website a summary of progress which will change daily, or more than daily.

Second, the federal government has already put on the table close to $700-million. It’s a lot of money, but there remain some gaps. One of those gaps in certain provinces is housing. I use this forum today – and it has already happened, you have heard me mention it – to appeal to the private sector and to ordinary individual Canadians to come forth and help out in terms of providing lodging of one kind or another to all of these refugees who are coming to our country.

The third point I’d like to make and it speaks to one of the questions – I may have not answered them all precisely – is that this, yes, is a short-term cost. It is a huge humanitarian venture, but it is also a long-term investment that will bring long-term gains for Canada, because all of these refugees — like those who went before them – will, after settling down, go out and get work and become productive members of our country.

This is important, and I salute the Premier of New Brunswick, who talks about not only receiving people, but helping them find jobs in areas of labour shortage. I call on the business community once again to help us find jobs for these people, and perhaps to help us as well in the area of housing.

Finally, it is important that Canadians know where to go if they want to help. On our website, my department has information for Canadians so they know where to go to help. We’re improving that, but I don’t think that’s enough. In the course of the day, I would be very interested to hear from all of you how we can get this information out, perhaps differentiate it, depending on the kind of assistance we are talking about.

This is a work in progress – quick progress, but it goes without saying we don’t have all the answers. Those of you assembled in this room will have many of the answers. I am hoping throughout the day we can progress together in this great project. In conclusion, let me put aside the details – although the details are crucial – and just say, my friends, let us show ourselves and let us show the world what Canadians are made of. Let us get this job done and let us get it done well. Thank you very much.

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