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Alberta The Syrian tragedy becomes a numbers game for party leaders

After the drowning of two young boys and their mother while trying to escape Syria generated a level of rebuke, each party leader has expressed how many Syrian refugees should be allowed in Canada.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

This was the kind of week it was for Stephen Harper: First, he gets called out by the aboriginal Canadian Mrs. Universe winner, who tweeted to the world that it is time for a new prime minister; then the Conservative Leader takes it on the chin for not doing enough to help fleeing Syrians.

The drowning of two young boys and their mother while trying to escape Syria has generated a level of rebuke that could scuttle Mr. Harper and his party come next month's election.

Canadians remain saddened, angered and anxious to know exactly what their government and its Immigration Minister, Chris Alexander, have done for Syrian refugees, and what Mr. Harper plans to do next.

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If his party is re-elected, he has promised to accept another 10,000 refugees on top of the 11,300 the government has already said it will settle in Canada. However, Canadian officials have yet to process 11,300 people, let alone take on another 10,000.

New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair countered the Tories by saying an NDP government would accept 10,000 Syrians right away. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau countered Mr. Mulcair, promising his party would take in 25,000 immediately. Mr. Trudeau added: "We as a country have failed to be the country that we like to pretend that we are."

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi was even more biting in his assessment.

"We're a country of generosity and we're a country of opportunity," he told reporters. "The fact that we have not even taken the Syrian refugees that we have committed to take – let alone taking many more people who are fleeing the most desperate situation only looking for opportunity in the world – to me, is a disgrace."

Others have pointed to weakened Canadian foreign policy workings that have been undercut and understaffed. "The Canadian response to the [Syrian] crisis is a stark reminder of how much our foreign policy has changed and how the reduction in the government's diplomatic services has left us woefully inadequate to respond," said Thomas Keating, who taught ethics and foreign policy at the University of Alberta.

An Ipsos poll released on Thursday had none of the three parties close to a majority government. A minority government with either the NDP or the Liberals was considered acceptable – a Conservative-led minority was not.

Winner by Twitter

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Before the refugee matter knocked him for a loop, Mr. Harper was taking shots from freshly crowned Mrs. Universe winner Ashley Burnham.

Mrs. Burnham, maiden name Callingbull, won her tiara last weekend in Minsk, Belarus, then went after Mr. Harper by telling Canada's First Nations people not to vote for him.

"We are in desperate need of a new PM," Mrs. Burnham wrote on Twitter. "Fight for your rights."

The 25-year-old Cree from Enoch, Alta., is sure to draw a lot of attention given her profile as a pageant winner, a TV actress [in the APTN show Blackstone] and a woman who was physically and sexually abused as a child by her stepfather.

Mrs. Burnham chastised Mr. Harper's government for its approach to the disappearances and murders of 1,200 aboriginal women. Both the Liberals and NDP say they would call a national inquiry.

For his part, Mr. Harper has promised more funding for police and protective services and "serious changes" to the justice system and how it deals with offenders.

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That was not nearly good enough for Mrs. Burnham. "I believe this government was created to work against us, not for us," she told the CBC.

"We're always put on the back burner."

Name that plane

There was one lighter moment on the campaign trail this week.

Mr. Harper and his wife, Laureen, posed for a photo as they boarded the Conservatives' chartered Air Canada Airbus. It has a seating capacity of 136 passengers. The important people sit up front, their advisers sit nearby and the media allowed on board are told to sit in the back of the airbus or in the storage bins overhead.

This enabled the media to maintain its fine tradition of getting together to name the plane they are on. The following are some of the suggestions submitted by concerned Canadians who wanted to know if Mr. Harper had to pay a $25 baggage fee: Air Farce 1; Con Air; Scare Canada; Mistakes on a Plane; Airrogance; and Recessionair, countered by Technical Recessionair, which was countered by Contracted Air.

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Personal favourite: Nice Air, Though, which was posted by Ottawa RedBlacks' media man Barre Campbell.

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