At this time of year, people in the western hemisphere are typically caught up in feelings of joy and generosity. It is typical of attitudes that prevail during the holiday festive season (a.k.a. Christmas) as people focus on values that are as timeless as they are fleeting. Living in peace with tolerance and understanding of others – especially other races who have different values and customs – is noble, but difficult to achieve for a significant period of time. It seems to be even more of a challenge now in light of terrorist attacks in Paris last month and extremist plans to rain down terror on other major cities. Caught between the east and west are refugees from war-torn Syria who began arriving in Canada last week.
Their arrival and Canada’s involvement in bombing terrorist sites in Syria caused me to reflect on the overall cost of such action. The federal Liberal government has estimated the cost of resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees will cost $877 million in 2015-16. The price tag is significantly higher than the $100 million figure Prime Minister Justin Trudeau quoted during the election campaign.
Resettlement costs will continue to climb over the next six years and will reach a total of $1.2 billion. That’s a fair bit of change for importing 25,000 refugees. It boils down to spending a total of $48,000 on each immigrant over six years or an average annual cost of $8,000 per person. Furthermore, some experts say the cost will actually be much higher as health, housing, employment and integration issues are dealt with.
I have not seen any figures indicating the number of refugees that are being sponsored by citizens, churches or other organizations. Sponsorship programs are a great idea and will not only reduce immigration costs to taxpayers, but will help speed the transition to a new life in a totally foreign country. Another bonus this year is Mother Nature’s welcoming party. So far, the old girl is greeting the newcomers with unusually warm winter weather. Surely we can all get in the spirit and give our future citizens an enthusiastic welcome and words of encouragement.
Getting back to the cost of being nice, the government’s six-year immigration and integration process seems a little pricy, but is it really? The $1.2 billion cost projection boils down to $200 million per year which is not excessive when compared to the other end of the spectrum – the cost of waging war.
According to former defence minister Jason Kenney, Canada’s participation in the war against terrorism in Syria and Iraq will consume more than $400 million a year. The cost was announced in February of this year. It did not include $123 million that was earmarked for the campaign in the previous fiscal year when Canada got involved militarily. The total cost of the campaign which was extended to the end of March, 2016 will be $529 million. The figure is above and beyond the everyday cost of having a national army, navy and air force. It does not include dismantling and moving expenses that will be incurred when the mission changes or ends.
The high cost of waging war begs a simple question. Should we continue to spend an average of $353 million per year to physically battle ISIS in Syria and Iraq or should those funds go into clandestine initiatives and humanitarian work such as relocating and settling refugees?
As I asked that question, one troubling aspect of history came to mind. Conventional bombing – which is largely how western nations are now waging war on terrorists – can inflict tremendous damage, but it has never singlehandedly defeated the morale of a fighting force.
Consider the Second World War and the Nazi blitz of London. Approximately 43,000 people died over an eight-month period, but Winston Churchill and the English people vowed to fight on and never surrender. Allied carpet (or saturation) bombing of Germany reduced entire cities to rubble and routinely left 10,000 to 40,000 civilians dead after a raid. However it did not break the will of the people.
When the war finally reached Japan, incendiary bombs razed massive areas of cities to the ground and claimed many thousands of lives with every attack. After a nine-month bombing campaign, over half a million civilians had died. Yet the people fought on. It took the nightmare of nuclear war to force Japanese leaders to discuss surrender.
We cannot defeat terrorism with conventional warfare. To overcome blood-thirsty radicals we must adopt new methodology that includes turning swords into plowshares. War cannot eliminate ideology. That requires thinking outside the box, education, replacing hatred with forgiveness, and spending funds creatively to subvert extremists in their own backyard.
We must stand strong and not give in to radicals and should not provoke their sympathizers.
We must also be even more vigilant in protecting our homeland and values while making and maintaining friendships around the world. That is a challenge that goes beyond simply bombing bad guys and accepting refugees. It requires an appreciation of other cultures and ensuring people have a sense of dignity and worth. Waging peace requires goodwill, a fresh approach, adequate funding and a firm but gentle hand. It is difficult, but possible.