Two retired leaders of the Royal Canadian Air Force say it is “technically” possible for Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau to reach his goal of resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year.

However, they say a successful mission would require fast action and a full-fledged military response.

“I haven’t seen a plan, I’ve just seen an intent. But it’s technically feasible, if enough resources and enough commitment is made and enough co-operation is found,” Lt.-Gen. Ken Pennie, former head of the Royal Canadian Air Force, told CTV’s Power Play on Thursday.

That sentiment was echoed by retired Brig.-Gen. Gaston Cloutier, the former wing commander at 8 Wing Trenton, who said the plan is “possible” from “a purely technical perspective.”

“From my perspective, the only organization that can deal with such an influx of people is the Canadian Forces, so the entire Canadian Forces … would have to be involved,” he said.

But making the December 31 deadline “would be a challenge,” Pennie said, and instead suggested that a longer timeframe would be “more reasonable.”

According to a former deputy director for the federal government’s refugee and humanitarian programs, Trudeau’s plan doesn’t leave enough time for on-the-ground logistics and fundraising in Canada.

“I don’t think it’s feasible,” said Scott Heatherington, who also formerly served as the Canadian ambassador to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

He pointed out that many private groups and churches are raising money to resettle Syrians, which he estimated to cost about $30,000 per family.

“Many of the groups are saying this is a great commitment, but give us a little bit more time -- not three months,” Heatherington said.

The Christmas dilemma

Even with a full-out military response, Pennie said the RCAF can’t meet Trudeau’s fast-approaching promise “without relying on some commercial assistance.”

But with Christmas around the corner, Pennie suggested that it may be bad timing for private airlines.

“You could get Air Canada to divert its assets and come do this, but you’d have a lot of potential Canadian citizens who wouldn’t be very happy with that. I don’t think any government would want to do that,” he said.

Instead, Pennie said, the government could consider an alternative -- hiring cruise ships.

“If a cruise ship company has a cruise ship that’s not particularly used at a particular point in time, that might be an option as well. The costs are going to be roughly comparable, I think,” he said.

Calling on the bases

In 1999, when 5,000 refugees from Kosovo arrived in Canada, the group was divided between two military bases: CFB Greenwood in Nova Scotia and CFB Trenton in Ontario.

It was a solution that took plenty of last-minute planning, said Cloutier, who was on the base at the time, but it worked.

“It was very busy, he said. “It was hard work, but it was done properly.”

However, he insisted that no base has the capacity to handle all 25,000 refugees.

Co-ordinating the move

Resettlement efforts typically require co-operation from a gamut of organizations, Heatherington said, with international governments, Canadian sponsors, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees and the International Organization for Migration all part of the conversation.

Geography also comes into play, he said.

“They’re spread over a number of countries, and getting to them in a timely fashion (is) going to take months, and possibly even a year,” he said.

Heatherington also reiterated the importance of thorough screening before refugees are admitted to Canada.

“We have to do security screening, because you want to make sure that you select the vulnerable, not the persecutors,” he said.