The immigration minister tries some Christmas cheer

The Liberals may not hit their 10,000 Syrian refugee resettlement target, but John McCallum is decidedly optimistic.

Canada's Immigration Minister John McCallum speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Canada November 24, 2015. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Canada’s Immigration Minister John McCallum speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Canada November 24, 2015. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Immigration Minister John McCallum tried to invoke the spirit of the holiday season in what is likely his last Syrian refugee briefing of the year, thanking companies and community groups for committing millions of dollars to the cause.

“I think it’s a great message that across this country, during this Christmas season, from the large companies contributing $8.5 million to the Toronto Muslim community contributing at least that amount of money in terms of value, to the little kids contributing toques and signs, I think it is a great sign of the generosity of all Canadians according to their means,” said the white-haired McCallum, sporting a festive red tie.

Related: Canada won’t guarantee goal of 10,000 Syrian refugees by year end

He then turned to a different set of numbers, admitting the Liberals may not hit their promised Dec. 31 target to resettle 10,000 people.

Including the 298 passengers on their way to Canada now, “significantly more than 2,000 Syrian refugees” soon will be in the country. Significantly more than 2,000, but still only a fifth of the promised 10,000, with eight days to go.

McCallum was well aware of the room full of media grinches sitting across from him in Ottawa’s National Press Theatre, waiting expectantly to quash his Christmas optimism in the question-and-answer portion of the press conference. The 10,000 target, he said, is still the government’s goal, and with the Montreal and Toronto airports able to take a combined five flights of refugees per day, it remains mathematically possible. There will be 10,000 Syrian refugees certified as permanent residents of Canada by the end of the year, thanks to the work of 500 Canadian civil servants working in Beirut, Lebanon and Amman, Jordan. But “the issue is whether all of those 10,000 Syrian refugees will have arrived in Canada, will have their feet on Canadian soil, by Dec. 31,” McCallum said.

Related: Reality hits the Liberal refugee plan

It’s possible the human need to say goodbye to friends and family, or simply Canadian winter weather, could limit the number of flights and the passengers on them. Plus, with one flight in the air now and a single flight departing Christmas day, the window to make the target is dwindling. Still, McCallum took issue with a breaking-news headline written by a reporter in the room that said he was admitting they wouldn’t hit the target.

“If you do the math, it does add up. I’m an economist, I can do math,” he grumbled.

The Liberals’ original goal was to resettle 25,000 refugees by the end of the year; by Nov. 24, they announced that wasn’t possible and reset the goal to 10,000 refugees by Dec. 31, with another 15,000 to follow by the end of February. And whether or not they meet the 2015 deadline, the government is almost certain it’ll have less trouble meeting the full goal just over two months from now; McCallum compares the work to a wave that starts slowly but builds to a crest that will flow large numbers of refugees across the ocean and into Canadian communities.

Related: Refugees and the long political journey

“Well before the end of February, 25,000 Syrian refugees will have landed in Canada as permanent residents,” he said, calling that the fundamental target.

The press conference also let McCallum play Santa Claus to the resettlement agencies to help them prepare for those who have yet to arrive, promising $15 million out of the $678 million over six years already set aside to bring the Syrian refugees to Canada.

The immigration, refugees and citizenship minister tried to keep things positive.

“I hope you come out of this thinking that we’re working very hard,” he said. “There’s a good chance we will have 10,000 [by the end of the year], but it certainly is not guaranteed. Nothing in life is 100 per cent guaranteed.”

Perhaps something to keep in mind the next time the government promises a firm target.

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