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As Parents And Politicians, Federal Leaders Mourn The Boy Who Washed Ashore

"As a dad and a grandfather, it's just unbearable that we're doing nothing."

A little boy lying face down in the sand, drowned but no longer desperate.

It's the kind of image that shakes something loose.

That red shirt.

Those little shoes.

And on Thursday, the photo of three-year-old Alan Kurdi's lifeless body on a Turkish beach dominated the conversation in a country the Syrian boy would never get to see.

Canada's three main federal party leaders reacted — as parents and as politicians — to the image and to the ongoing refugee crisis in Syria.

Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau, and Thomas Mulcair visibly fought back emotion, offering up a side not often seen by the public.

Their reactions, as parents

All three suggested they saw their children — and in Mulcair's case, grandchildren — in that photo.

"The first thing that crossed our mind was remembering our own son Ben at that age, running around like that," the Conservative leader said from British Columbia, his voice breaking just slightly. "It brings tears to your eye. I think that is the reaction of every parent."

The NDP leader delivered a similar message earlier in the day while making his case that Canada should immediately welcome 10,000 more refugees from Syria.

"This morning we see a little boy getting picked up on a beach," Mulcair said in Toronto, choking up. "As a dad and a grandfather, it's just unbearable that we're doing nothing."

A candidate standing behind Trudeau at his morning press conference in Brossard, Que. teared up as the Liberal discussed how the Kurdi family was unable to find refuge in Canada, despite efforts from relatives in British Columbia.


Alan's five-year-old brother Galib also perished, along with their mother, Rehan, when the boat carrying them from Syria to the Greek island of Kos capsized.

"These two little boys should be, right now, preparing for the beginning of the school year in Vancouver with their cousins instead of reminding us all that Canada, over the past years, has failed to be the country that we like to imagine it to be," Trudeau said.

While campaign stops are typically devoted to scoring points on rivals, Mulcair noticeably took a pass Thursday. The NDP leader said the failure on this issue extends to the entire international community.

Mulcair even held his fire when asked about Immigration Minister Chris Alexander's decision to halt his campaign to address the crisis.

"It would be too easy this morning to start assigning blame," he said. "Chris Alexander has a lot to answer for but that's not where we are right now. We're worried about how we got here. How the collective international response has been so defective, how Canada has failed so completely."

'Disingenious' move

Meanwhile, Trudeau blasted Alexander's as move "disingenuous" and "convenient."

"You don't get to suddenly discover compassion in the middle of an election campaign," he said. "You either have it or you don't.”

Trudeau, who has pledged a Liberal government would take in 25,000 Syrian refugees, also singled out former immigration minister Jason Kenney for, in his view, failing to act on the crisis. Kenney postponed an event in Brampton where he was set to make an announcement about protecting the "integrity of the Canada’s immigration system."

Harper, who hardly skips a chance to throw a shot at "the other guys," sidestepped criticizing New Democrats and Liberals directly.

But as the only leader of the three advocating to continue Canada's combat mission against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, Harper was careful to repeatedly state that fighting ISIL was central to helping Syrians.

'Root cause' of refugee crisis

"I don't need to tell you what we saw yesterday was a tragedy," he said. "What I need to tell you is that it is far, far worse than that."

While the Conservative leader reiterated a campaign pledge to accept 10,000 more refugees from the region in the next four years, he said "refugee policy alone" won't help the people who are there and can't get away.

The Tory leader called ISIL the "root cause" of the refugee crisis — an interesting choice of words for a leader who mocked Trudeau for wanting to study the root causes of terrorism.

But when a reporter once again asked him to weigh in on the now-iconic photo that jarred the international community, Harper worked in an oblique reference to the two men who seek to replace him.

"I do not know how, for the life of me, you look at that picture and you say, 'Yeah we want to help that family but we want to walk away from the military… mission that's trying to prevent ISIS from killing tens of millions of people,'" he said.

"I don't know how, for the life of me, you reach that kind of a conclusion."

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