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Region to donate $25k for Syrian refugees

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

For just the third time in recent years, Durham’s regional council waived its no grant policy to help out.

Durham is set to donate $25,000 for Syrian refugee relief efforts through the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), which is donating the money to Lifeline Syria, an organization aiming to bring Syrian refugees to Toronto.

“You know what this is all about. It’s about the Syrian relief and the efforts to help those who are in need,” Roger Anderson, the regional chair, said to councillors when the measure to waive the no-grant policy was introduced on the council floor, adding that the grant from the regional council will qualify for an announced federal policy that will see the donation matched.

This marks only the third time the no-grant policy at regional council has been waived in recent years, with the others coming following the 2004 tsunami stemming from the Indian Ocean and helping rebuild downtown Goderich following a tornado in 2011.

“It’s unusual that we waive the no-grants policy, but we have done that in the past under exceptional circumstances, and this is certainly one,” said Steve Parish, a regional councillor and the mayor of Ajax, during the council session, adding that his town council has donated $5,000 to the same cause. “We think all the municipalities in Durham can do something according to their abilities on this, and I think the people of the Region of Durham can also contribute. I think that this is encouraging our citizens to do that. These people are in desperate straits and this, together, I think will help relocate several families to Canada to escape the problems.”

According to a report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are more than 4 million people that have been displaced by the ongoing civil war in Syria.

The Syrian refugee issue has become a hot button issue in the ongoing federal election, with the incumbent Conservative government vowing to bring in more than 11,000 refugees by the end of 2017. The Liberal Party has said it will bring in 25,000 “as soon as possible” while the NDP has said it will bring in 10,000 by the end of this year and more than 46,000 by 2019.

Rosemary McConkey, a former Oshawa mayoral candidate, had asked to speak to regional council on the Syrian refugee issue, but councillors denied that request.

Bigger issues at home

While councillors voted unanimously to donate $25,000 to the AMO initiative, several councillors said that there are other matters closer to home that are more pressing and should also receive some attention.

“This is a good thing to do and the right thing to do, but here comes the ‘but,’” said Councillor Adrian Foster, also the mayor of Clarington. “There’s a Syrian refugee crisis, but there have been other crises with refugees that exist that we’re not hearing about…and while we can deal, we can help in a little way here, it brings to me the fact that we’ve got 10 to 15 per cent of our students are going out to school hungry in the morning. So communities can gather around and we can find resources, but an awful lot of things get forgotten about.”

Councillor Dan Carter of Oshawa laid out some of those problems later on during discussions surrounding the grant from the region.

“My concern is about next steps. We know that we have huge waiting lists at our emergency rooms and in our hospitals. Our mental health waiting lists for individuals who need assistance right now stretch into 13 months. And I’m very much aware about the housing crisis that we have in Durham Region,” said Carter. “I support making sure that we have the funds, but I’m worried that the province and others are making decisions that the municipalities are going to have to answer. And I don’t believe at this particular time, based on our own experiences through our healthcare system, through our mental health crisis centres and through our housing files, that we would be able to meet some of these needs that I’m very concerned about, and I’m hoping that this gives us the opportunity to undertake this discussion, to be able to say, ‘We want to help, we have empathy, we care about these people,’ but we need to be able to figure out ways to make sure that they do come into our community that we can support them on every aspect.”