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By John Ibbitson (@JohnIbbitson)
At a July, 1979, cabinet meeting, immigration minister Ron Atkey told his colleagues about a new book, None is Too Many, which documented the King government's refusal to accept a ship carrying Jewish refugees in the 1930s. The ship ultimately returned to Germany and war.
Now cabinet had to decide whether to increase the quota of Vietnamese refugees – the "boat people" – that Canada was willing to admit, even though a Gallup poll had shown 52 per cent of Canadians thought too many were being allowed in already.
"Do we want to be known as the government that said no?" Mr. Atkey demanded of his Conservative colleagues. "Or as the government that saved the day?" And thus was launched the operation that brought more than 60,000 Vietnamese refugees to Canada, many of them sponsored by families and organizations across the country.
Today, Immigration Minister John McCallum will outline details of the Trudeau government's plans to bring 25,000 Middle Eastern refugees to Canada before the end of the year. A recent Ipsos poll shows that 60 per cent of Canadians oppose the operation. And yes, circumstances are different; these refugees come from a part of the world where terrorists search for ways to launch attacks against Western countries, including Canada. Security concerns are justified.
But if Joe Clark's government had listened to the polls in 1979, other nations would not have been spurred by Canada's example to act, the country would not have been awarded the Nansen medal by a grateful United Nations, those refugees and their descendants would not have made their extraordinary contribution to Canadian society, and we would not look back, as almost all of us now do, with so much pride at one of this nation's shining moments.
It is not anti-immigrant or anti-refugee to be concerned by the government's haste. But if the choice is to bring them in or not to bring them in, then history tells us which side is the right side to be on.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS MORNING
By Chris Hannay (@channay)
> Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers presented a common front in the global fight against climate change, but left some of the difficult decisions for after next week's summit in Paris.
> As many as 900 to 1,000 Syrian refugees will start landing in Canada per day next week.
> An air strike by Canadian jets in Iraq may have killed at least five civilians and injured dozens more.
> Mr. Trudeau's team has been leaning heavily on Janice Charette, the Clerk of the Privy Council and Canada's most senior civil servant. Here's why. (for subscribers)
> Herb Metcalfe, an Ottawa lobbyist with deep Liberal connections, has been fined and sentenced to house arrest for tax evasion for failing to report $1.4-million of income.
> Albertans are mourning today for Manmeet Bhullar, a Progressive Conservative MLA who was killed in a car accident.
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WHAT EVERYONE'S TALKING ABOUT
"Here, premiers praised Mr. Trudeau, who promises to build a national climate deal on provinces' existing plans, for co-operation. Part of it is relief because it's been six years since predecessor Stephen Harper held a first ministers' meeting. And this group of provincial leaders, including six Liberals of varying shades and two New Democrats, is more politically in sync with Mr. Trudeau. But it's also because most premiers have a stake in selling the climate mission, too."
– Campbell Clark (for subscribers) on the first ministers' meeting.
Heather McGuffin (Globe and Mail): "With the focus on the refugee crisis in Europe, it's easy to forget that the vast majority of Syrian refugees – more than four million – have sought safety in neighbouring countries."
Duane Bratt (Globe and Mail): "Essentially, the Notley government has chosen to support one part of the energy sector (oil and gas) versus another (coal)."
Aaron Wherry (Maclean's): "With Alberta's turn towards climate change and the defeat of the Conservative government in Ottawa, there is not presently anyone in a position of power standing athwart history yelling 'I'm not sure about this!' – except, apparently, for Brad Wall."
Stephen Gordon (National Post): "It's not clear to me, however, that automation is destroying 'good' jobs: a job that consists of routine tasks that a machine could do may not be worth saving, regardless of what sector it's in."
This newsletter is produced by Chris Hannay and Steve Proceviat.
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