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Politics Migrant crisis weighs as party leaders respond to Canada's refugee policy

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair speaks to reporters during a federal election campaign stop in Brossard, Que., on Friday, September 4, 2015. Mr. Mulcair, the NDP Leader, criticized Stephen Harper for focusing his comments this week on highlighting the importance of Canada’s bombing campaign in Syria.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair traded attacks over the merits of Canada's military efforts in Iraq and Syria as the Conservative Leader repeated Friday that refugee policy alone is not the answer to the region's escalating humanitarian crisis.

All three major political parties resumed their regular campaign events Friday after a dramatic day as Canadian refugee policy suddenly attracted international attention. The shocking image of three-year-old Alan Kurdi's dead body and the revelation that the Kurdi family had hoped to come to Canada continued to weigh on the campaign as party leaders put forward their positions as to the best government response.

Mr. Mulcair, the NDP Leader, criticized Mr. Harper for focusing his comments this week on highlighting the importance of Canada's bombing campaign in the region.

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"No amount of military action would have saved that child on that beach yesterday. So let's start acting to save lives immediately," said Mr. Mulcair, who repeated his call for the Canadian government to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees before the end of the year.

The NDP Leader argued that the region's troubles date back to the misguided military invasion of Iraq in 2003 and that there is no role for the Canadian military in attempting to choose sides in a Syrian civil war.

"The NDP disagrees with the use of Canada's Armed Forces in that conflict. We've been clear on that since the beginning," he said at an event in Brossard, Que.

None of the three parties made new pledges Friday on refugees. The Conservatives are standing by their previous targets, which include separate announcements in 2013 and in January of this year to take in a total of 11,300 Syrian refugees and a campaign pledge to bring in an additional 10,000 refugees from both Syria and Iraq over four years.

However, the government is facing criticism because only 2,374 Syrian refugees have so far been settled. Of that number, only 622 – or 26 per cent – were assisted by the government. The others were privately sponsored by individuals or non-governmental organizations. The NDP argues that in addition to private sponsors, the government should immediately accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said the target should be 25,000 government-sponsored refugees, which he estimates would cost Ottawa $100-million.

"It's very clear that what is needed in this case is for leadership in our country that stands up and says that we want to start accepting tens of thousands of refugees in an immediate way," said Mr. Trudeau at a campaign stop in Richmond Hill, Ont.

Mr. Harper was asked in Whitehorse about bringing in more refugees.

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"Look, we realize that we have to bring in more and we have to do it more effectively and quickly," he said.

He stressed the importance of the military mission.

"We also have to do something about the root cause," he said. "We see this terrible picture of Alan on the beach, dead. We have pictures every day, videos of people being tortured and massacred and driven out of their homes and rendered homeless and without food and shelter. Every single day."

Mr. Harper said Canada and its allies cannot allow a group like the Islamic State to become an established security threat to the world.

"The NDP's position on these things is deeply ideological and it is deeply wrong and it is out of step with what Canadians believe," he said.

Abdullah Kurdi buried his wife and two sons on Friday in their hometown of Kobani, returning them to the conflict-torn Syrian Kurdish region they had fled.

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Mr. Kurdi told the media on Thursday that his sons, Alan, 3, and Ghalib, 5, and their mother, Rehanna, all died after their boat capsized as the family attempted to flee Turkey for Greece. The family was in Turkey after fleeing Syria when Kobani was captured by Islamic State.

Mr. Kurdi's sister, Tima, who lives in British Columbia, said on Thursday that she had hoped to bring her relatives to Canada as refugees. She said she had previously submitted formal requests to bring another brother, Mohammad, to this country, but the request was not approved.

With a report from The Associated Press

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