Image credit: Forbes.com

Dear Victoria,

Did you know that we aren’t taking in any government sponsored refugees? I didn’t. In fact, every Syrian refugee who has made their way to our Island has been brought here by private donors.

It turns out we are not on the official reception center list for government assisted refuges for no real good reason. I mean, the overall attitude in Victoria is very welcoming and open.  Plus we are a much bigger municipality than others that made the cut like Moose Jaw or Medicine Hat.

The real question is, do we want to be on that list? It’s a divisive issue here and all over the country. If the internet is to believed (spoiler alert: it’s not) opinions fall into only two categories: Team Whole Foods, who maintain that if you say anything at all questioning the refugee effort you are a racist, redneck xenophobe who would rather drink Coors Light at a demolition derby than join a drum circle for peace, and Team Drunk Step-Dad, whose motto falls under a “I ain’t gunna let my country turn into no damn feeloadin’ mooslem retreat” banner.

Of course 99% of people don’t fall into either camp. This is a nuanced issue, with many different factors to look at. Do we want to be considered a global citizen and help those who are in unimaginable circumstances? Are there social programs that help those less fortunate within our own borders that could benefit from the $1.2 Billion dollars earmarked?

There is no clear answer to these questions and they all touch on heated, sensitive and delicate points. And in my constant pursuit of the path of least resistance, I’m not going to even try. But, what if there was a way to take emotion out of the debate. What if we could wrap this up in pure economics?

You know that building on the corner of Douglas and Bay that’s completely nondescript, covered in vines and totally looks like a place where Cobra would have their secret base of operations? That’s the home of the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Society. And possibly Cobra. I didn’t check all the offices.

I spoke with Dave, who gave some new perspective on the debate.

I’m sure I had the same feeling you do right now. There is no way that accepting between 25,000 and 50,000 refugees could be economically beneficial for us. You’re not alone either. Only 32% of Canadians think that refugees will have a positive impact. And if you consider the source, this is obviously a biased opinion. But the thing is… it’s not.

There has been a long standing, quantifiable benefit for immigration in Canada, especially when it comes to refugees. From 1979 to 1981, Canada took in 60,000 Vietnamese refugees. The long term result? Within 10 years the refugee’s unemployment rate was 2.3% lower than the national average, one in five started a small business and they were considerably less likely to be on social assistance than the average Canadian.

It’s easy to say that was then and this is now, however our economy was in a similar situation. So what can we expect? Well VanCity for one, predicts that in the next ten years over half a billion dollars will be pumped into the BC economy because of Syrian refugees. As well, the Conference Board of Canada estimated that we need to raise the amount of immigrants Canada accepts by 100,000 per year to stave off decline. So in the end, how much more can we handle?

I’m not saying part of me doesn’t feel the other side of the argument. It’s especially hard to justify a 1.2 billion dollar price tag with the economy the way it is and you’ll get no arguments from me that more should be spent on job and education programs. However, when you take emotion out of the argument and look at it with a long scope and in a matter of pure economics, the dollars makes a lot of sense.

Yes I ended with a pun. I don’t care.