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federal budget 2016

John McCallum greets Syrian refugees at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Feb. 29.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

The Liberals have set aside $245-million for the resettlement of an additional 10,000 government-assisted Syrian refugees over the next five years, according to the federal budget.

The government previously announced its intentions to resettle 10,000 government-sponsored Syrian refugees this year, in addition to the 25,000 Canada has already welcomed, but it had not outlined the cost of that commitment. In another effort to strengthen Canada's place in the world, the government provided new foreign aid money to respond to rising international assistance concerns.

"Today, we are committing new funding to resettle an additional 10,000 government-assisted Syrian refugees over the course of 2016," Finance Minister Bill Morneau said in a prepared speech to the House of Commons on Tuesday.

"I believe the world saw the best of Canada in our response to this [Syrian] refugee crisis."

While the 10,000 government-assisted Syrian refugees will arrive this year, the $245-million will be spent over five years to resettle the newcomers. The government will also cover the cost of transportation to Canada and required medical exams for the 10,000 government-assisted refugees, as it did for the most recent cohort of Syrians.

Full budget coverage: Read Laura Stone's breakdown of the highlights

Syrian refugee resettlement was a major part of the Liberal Party's election platform and an early priority in its government mandate. Last November, the government committed $678-million over six years to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February – a target it eventually met. The new $245-million is in addition to that initial amount.

Immigration Minister John McCallum has said the government is on track to stay within its budget for its Syrian refugee resettlement commitments.

Also in line with its election platform, the Liberal government will invest in the reduction of family reunification wait times, which currently average almost four years for parent and grandparent applications. The government plans to spend $25-million this fiscal year to target specific application backlogs in Canada and overseas, and to reduce processing times on sponsorship decisions.

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, welcomed the government's commitment to make family reunification a priority but expressed concern about who may not benefit from the measure.

"I hope it is more of an oversight in the way they presented it because they keep talking about family sponsorship, and refugees are reunited not through sponsorship. So it seems the way it's written is to exclude refugees and that's a major concern to us," Ms. Dench said.

According to the government's immigration levels plan, Canada will accept 80,000 newcomers through the family class in 2016. Those 80,000 are part of the government's overall commitment to welcome a historic total of 300,000 permanent residents this year.

In order to support that 7-per-cent increase over the 2015 immigration target level, the government has set aside $56-million over three years, starting this fiscal year, to process new permanent residents and increase settlement programming, such as language courses and skills training.

The budget also allocated $256-million over two years for Canada's International Assistance Envelope (IAE); foreign-aid spending was frozen under the previous Conservative government. While the new money is not specifically allocated, the budget said it will be used to "respond to emerging international assistance priorities."

However, Oxfam Canada executive director Julie Delahanty said the new money probably isn't enough to boost Canada's development aid spending to gross national income (GNI) ratio, which dropped to 0.24 per cent of gross national income in 2014. That's well under the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent of GNI for aid spending.

"We expect the economy to grow, so this amount, just at first glance, it doesn't look as though it's going to increase the percentage for Canada in terms of our aid spending when we're trying to meet 0.7 per cent," Ms. Delahanty said.

CARE Canada said the new IAE money is a "step in the right direction" and encouraged the government to ensure that "every dollar committed truly is spent."

The budget also dedicates up to $586.5-million over three years from existing IAE spending to the renewal of key peace and security programs, including up to $106.5-million for the International Police Peacekeeping and Peace Operations Program, $30-million for the Counter-Terrorism Capacity Building Program – Sahel Envelope and $450-million for the Global Peace and Security Fund.

Some of the Global Peace and Security Fund initiatives will focus on promoting pluralism, including religious freedom. However, the budget did not indicate whether the mandate of the Office of Religious Freedom, a controversial initiative of the former Conservative government, will be renewed. The office's mandate expires on March 31.

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