Peter MacKay backtracks on embassy move

Conservative Party leadership hopeful Peter MacKay (Peter MacKay Facebook Page photo)

One day after he was quoted as saying he would not commit to moving Canada’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Conservative Party leadership hopeful and former foreign affairs minister Peter MacKay backtracked.

In a tweet on Feb. 4, MacKay said, “It has always been my personal view that Jerusalem is the undisputed capital of the State of Israel and that is where Canada’s embassy should be and under my leadership, will be located.”

Canada’s Jewish community “knows that the Conservative Party stands shoulder to shoulder with them,” MacKay tweeted. He said that when he was minister of defence, “I made it clear (that) a threat to Israel is a threat to Canada. I will always stand with one of Canada’s closest allies.”

It will be important, MacKay went on, “to consult our diplomatic officials at our embassy in Israel to make the necessary preparations for the move.”

The statement seemed to signal a change of heart, as only the day before, the Montreal-based online publication the Post Millennial quoted MacKay as saying he needed to consult and learn more before deciding whether to move Canada’s embassy from Tel Aviv.

“I said that there is a lot of priorities, and I want to hear more about those priorities before I make these pronouncements on a whole range of issues and so we’re in this process now – consulting broadly, hearing from experts who are well-informed on these issues, and I’m very much interested in hearing their perspectives and that’s what I’m doing right now,” MacKay was quoted as saying on Feb. 3.

When the Post Millennial asked MacKay under what circumstances he would move the Canadian embassy to Jerusalem, he said, “Well, that’s where we need to talk to people and find out what the various perspectives and circumstances would be.

“This is a complicated subject and I’m not in a position to do it, so I can’t be presumptuous in making these kind of commitments until I hear from people,” the candidate added. “I think that would be understood that consultation just over a week into a leadership contest – it would be rather presumptuous for me to say this is what I’m going to do based on the outcome that’s yet to arrive.”

MacKay said the same thing in a conversation with “members of the Toronto Jewish community,” according to an anonymous source at the meeting who spoke to the Post Millennial.

The publication noted that “prominent figures in the Conservative movement were quick to criticize MacKay’s original position.”

MacKay was unavailable for comment on Feb. 4.

Ontario MP Erin O’Toole, a former party foreign affairs critic and MacKay’s rival for the leadership, wasted little time in staking out his position on the subject.

“Under Stephen Harper, Canada stood out as a resolute friend of Israel. Sadly, under Justin Trudeau this strong support has weakened. We need a principled Conservative leader who will make Canada a true friend of Israel once again,” O’Toole said in a statement posted to Facebook on the same day as MacKay’s tweet.

“I have been absolutely clear about this and my views have not changed. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The strong presence of the Jewish people there is thousands of years old. But the modern era of Israel – the Knesset is in Jerusalem, the Supreme Court, most of the foreign affairs and government ministries in West Jerusalem.

“I believe that we need more of a presence in the ground in Jerusalem. It’s crazy that our ambassador has to drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to meet with government officials just to preserve a diplomatic fiction. It’s time to recognize reality and move our embassy,” O’Toole said.

Outgoing party leader Andrew Scheer promised last May to move Canada’s embassy to Jerusalem if he became prime minister.

Meeting in Halifax in August 2018, Conservative Party members approved a resolution recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and advocating moving Canada’s embassy there.