OTTAWA — There is no guarantee the federal government will meet its promise to resettle 10,000 Syrians by year end, but the Liberals remain confident that resettling more than twice as many by the end of February is possible, Immigration Minister John McCallum said Wednesday.
There are too many factors beyond the government's control to say with certainty 10,000 people will arrive in the next eight days, McCallum said.
They include weather and the reality that some Syrians aren't prepared to leave as quickly as the government wants them too, he said.
"We are moving heaven and earth to get them here as quickly as we can, but to do it in a way that is correct and appropriate and takes due concern for security, medical and other issues," he said.
"We are sticking to our target of 10,000 by the end of the year, but there are challenges and it's less possible to guarantee that than it is the 25,000 target. But we are still committed to it, and we are still working very hard to achieve it."
During the election, the Liberals promised to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees into Canada by the end of the year. In November, the Liberals amended that promise saying the government would bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February with the first 10,000 to have landed by year end.
As of Dec. 21, 1,869 Syrians had arrived.
A further 298 were scheduled to arrive in Montreal Wednesday night. McCallum did not provide specific details on how the remainder could be brought to Canada by Dec. 31.
McCallum said the outpouring of supporting from Canadians, including millions donated by the private sector, suggest everyone is on side with the totality of the effort and not anxious about the deadlines being changed.
But Opposition immigration critic Michelle Rempel said the Liberals absolutely need to be held accountable for the figure and deadline.
Their entire narrative during the election was about hammering the previous Conservative government over the smaller number of refugees it was bringing in, she said.
"This was a campaign wedge issue the Liberals used during the election, one-upping everyone," she said. "You can't come forward saying you are going to lead without having a plan and from day one, they have not had a plan."
McCallum denied Wednesday there were politics at play in the setting of targets and deadlines the Liberals have now been forced to change several times.
He said the historic nature of the program means immigration officials are learning as they go.
"You don't automatically have a tried-and-tested model to do something that has never been done before, but they are doing it as quickly as possible and over the days, they are learning to do it smarter and more effectively," he said.
"So maybe one definition of real change is you do things you've never done before, and this is exactly what my department and others in the public service are doing today."
Why the February target is still feasible is because of the amount of time between now and then, McCallum said.
"Today's the 23rd of December, so we have eight days or nine days between now and the end of the year. So if there's bad weather, or if there's people wanting to delay their flight for whatever reason, then it's much more difficult to deal with that over a period of eight days than over a period of 60 days," he said.
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press