Question on refugee crisis leads to fiery exchange in federal leaders debate

The three major party leaders squared off in Calgary to debate their vision for the economy but the Syrian refugee crisis made an unexpected cameo and led to a fierce exchange on Canada’s role.

“The fact is we need to once again be a country that is open and welcoming. Yes we need to be concerned about security. But we don’t take that as the excuse to close our doors,” said Trudeau in response to a question on the balance between economic migrants and family reunification.

The Liberal Leader accused Harper of using security checks and concerns “as an excuse to do less” on accepting more refugees.

READ MORE: Election debate, Round 2: Mulcair, Trudeau, Harper drop the gloves

Harper quickly countered Trudeau’s attack, claiming Canada is one of largest countries for refugee resettlement.

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“I have said we will bring in more. But what I have said we will not do, these guys would have had us, in the last two weeks, throwing open our borders and literally hundreds of thousands of people coming without any kind of security check or documentation,” said the Conservative leader.

“That’s not true Mr. Harper. … We have a prime minister who prefers to pander to fears,” Trudeau interrupted.

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WATCH: Highlights from the leaders debate on the economy in 3 minutes

The Conservative leader also countered a point that his government has not stripped healthcare from immigrants and refugees claiming to have only done so in cases where there are “bogus claims.”

“We do not offer them a better healthcare plan than the ordinary Canadian can receive,” Harper said. “That is something that new, and existing and old-stock Canadians can agree with.”

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READ MORE: Election 2015: Highlights from the leaders debate on the economy

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair also accused Harper of playing off voters’ prejudices.

“Mr. Harper unfortunately, and it is undignified, is fear mongering. It is completely false to affirm that any of the parties in Canada would want to throw open the doors without any regard to security,” Mulcair said.

The New Democrat Leader also referenced Rick Hillier, former chief of the defence staff, who said last week security screening procedures should not slow down the refugee resettlement program. Hillier also said this week the Canadian Forces could help bring at least 50,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by Christmas.

“Mr. Harper why don’t you stop using the security excuse as a pretext to do nothing, because nobody wants to let somebody in without a security check but you are doing nothing,” Mulcair said.

READ MORE: Manitoba government is pledging more money to help Syrian refugees

Harper had the last word on the issue, saying his government has announced it will not only bring in more refugees, but will match donations from Canadians.

Conservative Jason Kenney insists the federal government will soon release details on plans to accelerate the taking in 20,000 Iraqi and Syrian refugees.

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Meanwhile, the NDP has promised to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of this year and another 9,000 a year for the next four years. The Liberals have vowed to bring in 25,000 Syrians by the end of the year.


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