By Peter Henderson, THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO: NDP Leader Tom Mulcair may have reached out, but Stephen Harper has effectively dismissed pleas of dialogue among federal leaders over the Syrian refugee crisis.

On Monday, Mulcair told a crowd at Toronto’s Labour Day parade that only Harper has the power to address the matter.

“The person who can take these decisions is the prime minister,” he said. “My chief of staff has reached out to his to try and get a discussion rapidly.”

Mulcair said it’s important for party leaders to rise above politics and talk to one another about Canada’s policy towards Syrian refugees. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has also called for party leaders to meet to discuss the crisis, but the NDP leader said he’s been there all along.

“That’s the type of thing I was calling for last week when I said we should be a little bit less partisan and start concentrating on helping people who are in desperate need,” said Mulcair.

He underlined that the NDP wants a commissioner to deal specifically with the issue of Syrians fleeing the chaos in their country.

But at a campaign event in nearby Mississauga, Harper rejected the overtures as “partisan games” at a time when the federal government is already taking action.

“The government is seized with this issue. I already made announcements before these headlines,” Harper said.

The Syrian crisis gained renewed prominence last Wednesday after the widely publicized drowning deaths of two young Syrian boys and their mother, who apparently wanted to join family in British Columbia.

Shocking photographs of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s body washed up on a Turkish beach drew reaction from around the world and prompted refugee and human rights advocates to call on the federal government to ease paperwork barriers and boost resources to help Syrian refugees settle in Canada.

New Democrats have said the government should bring than 46,000 government-sponsored refugees to Canada by 2019, while the Liberals say Canada should take in 25,000 Syrian refugees before next year.

The Conservatives have committed to 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next three years.

“I’ve already announced that we’re increasing that number and we are working to expedite this,” Harper said. “We’re obviously very pleased Canadian are seized with this issue and Canadians want us to respond. That’s what we’re doing.”

But Harper cautioned that the government will take the necessary time to vet the refugees coming from that war-torn region.

“Let me also assure Canadians that we’ll make sure we have the processes in place so that we make sure we help the most vulnerable first. This is not first come, first serve,” he said. “We make sure we know who everybody is. We help those who are most vulnerable. Let me also assure Canadians that when we’re bringing people from a war zone, an area controlled by terrorists, we’ll make sure Canadian security is properly protected.”

Millions have fled war-ravaged Syria since 2011, but fewer than 2,400 Syrians have been resettled in Canada during the last two years as part of an overall commitment to accept 11,300 people.


© 2015 The Canadian Press