The former Conservative government’s decision to cut refugee health care was “economically foolish” and ended up costing more in the long run, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum says.

The newly appointed minister told CTV’s Question Period that the Conservatives’ 2012 decision put pressure on not only the refugees denied access to health care, but also taxpayers.

“It might have saved a few dollars for the federal government, but people who are really sick don’t just die in the streets. They go to the emergency (rooms) and hospitals, and the cost of that is greater than the cost of what they would have received alternatively,” said McCallum.

“It was economically foolish.”

While McCallum could not say exactly how many refugees were affected by the cuts, he said it has had the legal and medical community “up in arms.” He also agreed with a Federal Court judge's ruling last year that called the government’s cuts “cruel and unusual.”

The new Liberal government has committed to reverse the cuts. McCallum said that while that change won’t happen overnight, it’s high on the government’s priority list when Parliament resumes on Dec. 3.

“I don’t know if it will be on the parliamentary agenda before Christmas, but what I can tell you is that certain things will happen quickly -- in a few months, if not a few weeks. And one of those is refugee health care.”

Also high on McCallum’s priority list is the Liberal plan to speed up processing times for family reunification, as a part of a renewed approach to immigration.

“Probably the biggest commitment in our platform in the medium term … is to bring down those processing times for families,” said McCallum. “We’ve promised to have a new attitude where we welcome newcomers with a smile and not with a scowl.”

In the short term, McCallum said the most pressing issue for his department is the Liberal commitment to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada by year’s end.

He said the government is still working toward that target, but is also determined to do proper security and health checks along the way. He said the public service is working “around the clock,” looking at every option to get Syrian refugees to Canada.

“Air transport, either commercially or through the air force, is possible, as is transport by ships. All of those things are being looked at and we will choose the most efficient and cost effective way to bring this about.”

And they’re also examining where to house the refugees when they arrive, including military bases, through organizations like the Red Cross and with Syrian family members in Canada.

“There’s a plethora of options there and I suspect it will be a mix of more than one solution.”