Editorial: Pragmatism, polling, and politics

The Liberal government’s decision to break one of its key election promises barely a month into governing shows that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is as much a pragmatist as he is a poll watcher — much like former prime minister Jean Chrétien.

Trudeau likely lost few votes when he decided to forgo bringing in 25,000 refugees by the end of the year, as originally promised. It was an unrealistic time frame for such a massive operation. In fact, he probably won over some Canadians, since 51 per cent  disapproved of his Syrian refugee plan, according to a Nov. 18 Forum poll.

Trudeau likely also won support with his plan to accept only children, women, and families, at the expense of single males, a bone tossed, no doubt, to the 58 per cent of Canadians who believe there is a security risk to settling Syrian refugees. The Paris bombings certainly didn’t help the Liberals’ cause any.

While backing down will no doubt ruffle the feathers of refugee advocates, it was a prudent move and one that should buy his government time to, as he says, “get it right.”

The downside of getting it wrong was too great a risk. Prime ministerial legacies are built over months and years, yet they can be destroyed in seconds. What if a poorly vetted refugee turned out to be a terrorist who committed a heinous act on our soil? It’s a burden that no prime minister of any political stripe should bear.

The Paris bombings show how precarious the climate is that we live in today. This is one campaign promise that he was wise to modify.

Canada is a welcoming nation, with a strong record of immigration. We can, and probably should, take more than 25,000 Syrian refugees. We likely will. However, we must do so in a well-facilitated manner that ensures processes are in place that both afford proper protection to the citizenry at large and, more importantly, to ensure that those coming to Canada are welcomed and provided with an opportunity to succeed rather than fail. Canadians, no doubt, will rally around them once the flow starts.

As for our pragmatic prime minister, will he be true to other campaign promises when the heat turns up on them, which it always does in politics? Only time will tell. I doubt that this will be the last time he considers backing down from a bad plan. And that’s not a bad thing.

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