From Canada as Hawk to Canada as Peacemaker in Mideast

By Richard Foltz | (Informed Comment) | – _

As midnight approached on October 19th Canadians staying up to watch the results of the federal election let out a huge collective sigh of relief as the Liberal party under 43- year-old pretty boy Justin Trudeau surged to an unexpected majority victory, putting an end to nine years of Conservative rule under Stephen Harper which had threatened to turn Canada into a warlike, paranoid extension of the United States. “We’re back!” a beaming Trudeau announced at a rally in Ottawa the following day, nourishing the hopes of peace-loving Canadians, many of whom had begun to joke about removing the maple leaf insignias from their luggage out of shame when traveling abroad.

MidEast watchers in particular saw their hopes rise throughout the two-and-a-half month federal campaign (the longest since the 19th century), during which Trudeau promised to admit 25,000 refugees to alleviate the crisis in Syria. (The Harper government proposed admitting only 1,400, citing fears that terrorists might be among them.) Trudeau vowed to end Canada’s combat mission against ISIS, and was moreover the only leader among Canada’s five major national parties to directly promise to restore relations with Iran, which the Harper government unilaterally severed in 2012 under the bogus pretext that Iran’s cultural attaché in Ottawa was promoting Islam (it is a cultural attaché’s job to promote culture!) and citing baseless fears for the safety of Canadian diplomats in Tehran. This counterproductive gesture left some 400,000 Iranians resident in Canada without access to consular services, and led confused Canadians to surmise that under the dark of night our government had sworn in a new foreign minister by the name of Binyamin Netanyahu.

While throughout the campaign the Middle East was rarely discussed, Trudeau’s positions set him distinctly apart from other party leaders. In the wake of Harper’s strongly partisan pro-Zionist policy, the election of the Liberals promises a return to the more balanced approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict which characterized earlier Canadian administrations. (During the recent election cycle even the formerly socialist New Democratic party refused to distance itself from the Harper regime’s uncritical support for Israel, NDP leader Tom Mulcair even going so far as to dismiss several of his party’s candidates who had been bold enough to criticize Israeli human rights violations).

The Trudeau government has yet to name a cabinet (though former astronaut Marc Garneau, who previously served as the Liberals’ foreign policy critic, is a likely candidate for Minister of Foreign Affairs), and its positions may be more fully fleshed out by the time Trudeau attends the G20 summit in Turkey on November 15 and 16. The incoming Prime Minister has moreover invited provincial representatives to accompany him to the climate summit in Paris in December, where all eyes will be on him to see if he succeeds in restoring Canada’s place as a leader in the fight against climate change after the embarrassment caused by Harper’s refusal to sign the Kyoto treaty.

Canadians have emerged from a nine-year nightmare in which they saw their global reputation for peacefulness and moderation trampled under by a Conservative government that thrived on sowing fear and restructured the national economy in the service of the world’s dirtiest oil industry. It is time to dream again.


Richard Foltz is Professor of Religion and Founding Director of the Centre for Iranian Studies at Concordia University in Montréal, Canada. His book Iran in World History has just been published by Oxford University Press.



Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews from last week: “Canada’s new PM confirms pledge to end fight against Islamic State militants”

8 Responses

  1. Although some of this makes sense I am very surprised at your optimism about Israel/Palestine. The Liberals’ position on Gaza last summer was completely unprincipled, with several MPs and Senators visiting Israel during the Gaza campaign and not an iota of sympathy, concern, interest or knowledge expressed about the Palestinian situation or the context of Israel’s 7 year blockade. What’s more, Justin Trudeau has publically denounced the BDS movement and other means of censuring Israel by non-violent means. As a Canadian I feel I’ve got some of my country back, but I have no expectation of enlightened leadership on this from the new Canadian government.

    • All very true. My optimism is relative, and guarded.

  2. There will be no chance of peace in the mid east while likud thugs are in the ascendancy and their billionaire supporters are financing pro israel politicians. The ONLY solution is a total and complete boycott of this mudererous regime, taking private donations out of political campaigns and nationalising banks.

  3. And yet Harper’s Americanized far-right party ruled for 9 years, because 40% of Canadians always supported him, and the rest of Canadians refused to unite their four left-leaning parties to put a stop to him. The Liberals got their landslide with 40% as well, meaning it could unravel very quickly.

    The monolithic unity of right-wingers in America and Canada forged by theocrats and corporate media exposes the degree of projection in right-wing claims that liberals are intolerant, narrow-minded, and all part of one giant monolithic conspiracy against everyone different than themselves. We “liberal bigots” are in fact defined by the fact that we can’t agree on anything, which is the best argument for protecting liberty but the worst vehicle for actually doing so.

    • “We “liberal bigots” are in fact defined by the fact that we can’t agree on anything,”

      Very true and is one reason why I ceased being ‘a liberal’ the other being that whle liberals wrng their hands insisting that justice for the majority is only a matter of time the ‘right’ are financing political campaigns …. destroying the careers of individuals who protest …. ignoring international laws …. stealing what they want by wars or terror … (israel being the current example) meanwhile the majority wait with baited breath for the next iPhone while lamenting their offspring cannot get a job.

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