Trudeau’s Syrian refugee misstep bad for business in B.C.

It is always worrisome to press the Send button on a column and know it will be a few days before it reaches anyone. Such is the speed of changing news and the life of print journalism.

It will not surprise me then if, between the time we go to press and the time you read this, Justin Trudeau has made his first policy flip-flop to undo an important element of his larger refugee strategy.

If not, though, I believe he has made his first policy mistake.

His nascent government, in a late-in-the-game bow to the fear fomenters, has chosen political expedience over principle in deciding the government will not bring single Syrian men to Canada. (An exception will be made for men facing persecution, particularly for sexual orientation, and some will be permitted among private sponsorships.)

It means a disproportionately small number of single men will be among the 25,000 refugees coming to Canada, including 10,000 by year’s end and about 3,000 to B.C.

The move corrodes the social and economic impact of the exercise and places an unnecessary asterisk on our record.

From a sheer what-it-means-to-business perspective – which is what we dwell upon here at Business in Vancouver – it is fair to say the economic contribution of the Syrian refugees would likely be greatest were single men fully among the cohort.

It is bad business, even if not necessarily bad politics, not to let them in. It isn’t that women or men in families won’t be working, only that single men are bound to have the greatest mobility to make the most immediate contribution.

We pride ourselves in Canada on labour-market efficiency, yet we are fettering the prime candidates.

Of course, if you want to defuse the skeptics about refugees – and even about immigrants – just demonstrate how they propel our economy.

Unfortunately, we still seem to have to demonstrate that as a country, even if our economy owes its strength to wave upon wave of immigration.

Our economic sustainability is in their hands, and we are not keeping pace with our need as a country.

Foreign talent is integral to demographic and economic growth, particularly in the critical 20-to-44 age group that creates households, buys houses and big-ticket items and pays the largest share of taxes.

These are bound to be the bulk of the refugee applicants.

We are attractive as a country to refugees because we have opportunities and freedoms, a comparably good social safety net, and relative tolerance of diversity. But if we want the humanitarian effort to be triumphant as a signature national moment, we cannot as a country keep anyone out irrationally. Excellence in the exercise does not include exclusion.

Either we trust the apparatus of international agencies and our many security forces that the refugees will be appropriately screened or everything they have said in recent weeks has been ill informed. I doubt the latter is the case.

Besides, why single men in the private sponsorships and not the government-overseen program? Why would there be any difference?

I think Trudeau and his team put the wet finger in the air and determined the direction of the wind post-Paris attacks. Canada caved. I hope this isn’t a sign of times ahead.

And I am surprised.

Justin Trudeau seemed to be his own man, rising above the din and ignoring the shallow undercurrent of the opposition to his refugee strategy.

He has promoted the plan as not only good for our souls but good for our solvency.

Over time any influx characteristically builds communities and the country.

Any move to admit refugees, particularly a large contingent, is an economic statement. Any move to deny access, even a small contingent, is a political one.

Trudeau has chosen the wrong move at the wrong time.

Kirk LaPointe is Business in Vancouver’s vice-president of audience and business development.