Q&A with Justin Trudeau: I am opposed to the BDS movement

Justin Trudeau


Who will be Canada’s next prime minister? 

As election day draws near, The CJN speaks to the four party leaders about domestic security, Israel, Iran, BDS, the economy and more  

Click here for interview with Conservative leader Stephen Harper

Click here for interview with NDP leader Tom Mulcair

Click here for interview with Green Party leader Elizabeth May

The CJN: How is your campaign going thus far?

Justin Trudeau: It’s going very well. We’ve focused on the big issues that matter to Canadians – economic growth, jobs, help for the middle class and those who are working hard to join it, and we’re seeing people respond very positively right across the country.

In your view, how is this campaign different from previous ones?

I think what is remarkable about this campaign is just how volatile the electorate is. People are open to a wide range of different options and the longer campaign means that people are taking time to really listen to different proposals and think about who has the better plan for growing our economy, for facing the challenges that we know Canada is facing. I think that is, frankly, to our advantage, because we are very much focused on a concrete and real plan to kick-start our economy and help Canadians.

When it comes to domestic security, what will your party do to ensure the security of Canadians?

Canadians expect their government to do two things – protect our security, and defend our rights and freedoms. The Liberal party has gotten that balance right in the past, and we’re going to continue to get that balance right in the future. Irwin Cotler, who was justice minister in the times following 9/11, steered through the kind of proposals that made Canada safer, but defended our rights and freedoms.

And that’s where we agree with Mr. Harper’s approach on Bill C-51, in terms of the elements in it that actually increase security in direct and meaningful ways for Canadians.

But we disagree in that they didn’t go far enough to bring in proper and robust oversight by parliamentarians of our national security agencies, for example. So what we’re committed to doing is what our Five Eyes allies all do (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States), which is create a committee of parliamentarians to ensure that our security agencies and police are respecting peoples’ rights and freedoms – but at the same time are doing everything they can to keep Canadians safe. Mr. Harper doesn’t think elected parliamentarians should be doing that.

What is your view of the Iran deal? If you are elected prime minister, how would you go about trying to influence change in Tehran’s behaviour? What is Canada’s role to play on this issue?

We have to realize that a nuclear-armed Iran is a threat not just to the region, but to global stability and security, and is absolutely unacceptable. The international community needs to do everything it can to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons. And that’s why we take the P5+1 deal as a good step in the right direction – one that obviously needs to be carefully and closely monitored to ensure that it is having the necessary impact.

But I think we’re still a long way from Iran actually being able to rejoin in any meaningful sense the community of nations. It’s not just a challenge of its nuclear ambitions, it’s a challenge around state-sponsored terrorism throughout the Middle East and beyond, and as well the complete disregard for human rights within their own country.

Where does the Liberal party stand on Israel, and the balance between security for the Jewish state and peace with the Palestinians?

We feel that the only way to achieve peace in this situation is a two-state solution of a secure, democratic, stable Israel alongside a secure, democratic, stable Palestinian state. And the way to achieve that is direct negotiations between the two parties.

It’s a process that is hindered by unilateral actions by either side, and we need to ensure that we are moving toward that two-state solution in a meaningful and responsible way.

Where do you stand on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement?

I’m opposed to the BDS movement. I think that it’s an example of the new form of anti-Semitism in the world, as Irwin Cotler points out, an example of the three “Ds”: demonization of Israel, delegitimization of Israel, and double standard applied toward Israel.

I’m all for freedom of speech and expression in Canada, and we need to be sure we’re defending that. But when Canadian university students are feeling unsafe on their way to classes because of BDS or Israel Apartheid Week, that just goes against Canadian values. And I have said so, not just in news interviews, but in person on university campuses.

Poverty is an important issue for the Jewish community. What would your government do to help alleviate poverty in Canada?

First of all, even though it’s not always seen and addressed, the Combined Jewish Appeal and other initiatives have shown extraordinary leadership in addressing the needs of so many people struggling to make ends meet within the Jewish community, and across communities.

The Liberal party is committed to helping people living in poverty in Canada. We are offering a more generous Canada Child Benefit than what Mr. Harper offers – and the reason we’re able to do that is we are going to be stopping the sending of government cheques to millionaire families just because they have children. Instead, we are going to be more generous to families in the middle class and particularly low-income families. And that initiative has been studied by the Library of Parliament and we will be lifting 315,000 kids out of poverty by giving, for example, a cheque to a low-income family for a kid under six of $533 a month, tax-free.

We’re going to be increasing the Guaranteed Income Supplement for low-income, single seniors by 10 per cent. That’s an extra $920 every year for our most vulnerable seniors. So this is something we are doing concretely to help address the crippling poverty that far too many of our seniors are facing.

Finally, what is your message to Jewish voters across this country?

My pitch is primarily, an economic one. For 10 years, Mr. Harper has delivered the worst growth rate of any prime minister since the 1930s and the Great Depression. He has had the worst record on job creation of any prime minister since World War II. He has continued to give tax breaks and benefits to the wealthiest Canadians, while leaving middle-class Canadians to fall further behind. And that is the real change we are focusing on bringing. 

Specifically for the Jewish community, we have to be very alert to a government that is choosing to use the politics of division and fear as blithely as Mr. Harper has been. Whether it’s on the niqab issue, whether it’s around citizenship issues, Mr. Harper never resists an opportunity to play with wedges and exacerbate fears instead of showing the kind of leadership that allays fears and brings people together. 

And the primary example for me on this is that the Liberal party is of the opinion that it is a good thing in Canada that all major parties, and all potential prime ministers, support Israel. The fact that this prime minister has chosen to make support for Israel a domestic wedge issue is not good, either for Canada or for the Jewish community. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity.