Q&A with Stephen Harper: We will not tolerate the singling out of Israel

Stephen Harper

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 Liberal leader Justin Trudeau

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?

Stephen Harper: You never know these things for sure until election day, but our core message is that we’re in an unstable global economy and we need a solid economic plan for the next four years, based on lowering people’s taxes, making affordable and effective investments and keeping our budget balanced. 

That’s the big choice here: the other guys are proposing runaway spending and deficits, tax hikes and things that have put other economies into the gutter. And we need to keep moving forward with a positive plan.

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

There’s always all kinds of dynamics that are different. The economy is the number one issue. I think it’s been the number one issue for the past couple of campaigns, but I think probably now more than ever that’s what people are thinking about. They think about four years ahead and where they want the economy to be.

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

We’ve moved forward with a series of strong legislative measures. What we’ve certainly tried to do, particularly since the jihadist attacks we had last October, is we’ve moved forward with a series of measures to make sure that our security and police agencies have all the resources we need, but also all of the modern tools that western security and police agencies have around the world. 

Things like the ability to share information on security threats among themselves, to take down recruitment websites, to make sure that it’s basically a crime to spread terrorism or the advocacy of terrorism. So we’ve moved forward on a lot of fronts.

We’re also investing in anti-radicalization programs. Of course, a big difference between now and, say, a number of years ago, is we’re now actively engaged in Iraq and Syria in the fight against the so-called Islamic State, which obviously presents a pretty grave threat to the security of Canada and our allies.

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?

Our allies have concluded an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program that is designed to make sure Iran respects international norms, doesn’t develop a weapon and that we avoid some kind of a military confrontation around this. All we can do, I think, is, essentially, congratulate our allies on their best efforts. 

I don’t mind saying that we maintain a fair degree of skepticism about Iran, about whether it will adhere to the terms of this agreement. But, we’ll judge Iran by its actions, not by its words.

We will continue to raise concerns about Iran’s broader destabilizing agenda – not just its nuclear weapons program, but its systematic, extreme violations of human rights, its trends for violence around the region, its ongoing threats to the State of Israel. We consider these things pretty serious issues, and so a big difference between us and the Liberal party is that we are certainly not going to rush to normalize relations with Iran when it takes these kinds of positions in the world.

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

Our position has always been that we need to have a negotiated two-state solution, where we have two states living in harmony that are both peaceful and secure and democratic. We think that unilateral actions to try to attain recognition for a Palestinian state are unjustified – we generally are not for unilateral actions on either side. 

But under this government, Canada has taken a very strong and, frankly unfortunately, unique stand in the international community that we will not tolerate or go along with the singling out of Israel for blame in the problems of the Middle East. It’s just not true and not justified. And this government will continue to stand by the one, strong western democracy and ally that we have in that region.

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

These movements to boycott Israel, obviously we denounce them. They are based on a systematic policy of trying to single out and blame Israel in a way that is simply not justified if you look at the records of other countries in the region. 

And, frankly, I find a lot of it rooted in a hatred of Israel and a not very well disguised anti-Semitism that this party absolutely will have nothing to do with.

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

We’ve taken a whole lot of measures. I’m pleased to see that we are not only one of the few advanced economies that has been able to grow over the past 10 years with all this global economic uncertainty, but we’ve actually seen growth in all income levels, including the lowest levels. 

We brought in a number of measures, like Universal Childcare Benefits and the biggest increase to the Guaranteed Income Supplement for our poor seniors in a quarter-century. We’ve done a lot of things to try and make sure that people, including those at the lowest income levels, have more [money] in their pockets. 

And, of course, our biggest single agenda is to make sure we have a program that will create jobs going forward so that people have opportunity. 

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

I have the same broad message to all Canadians, which is we are in an unstable global economy, and the only party that has a realistic plan to grow this economy and create jobs is the Conservative party. The other parties’ plans are based on out-of-control spending that would be financed by tax hikes that would hurt our economy and, in the case of the Liberals, by deficits, which means they can’t really pay for the things they are promising people.

We’re laying out a series of measures, whether it’s the home renovation tax credit, [tax] cuts for small business, more help for single seniors, enhancements to registered education savings plans – the things we are laying out are all things we can afford without raising taxes and while balancing our budget. These are the things that create jobs. So, we ask people to think about the big choice, which is our plan – low taxes, balanced budgets, more jobs – or on the other side, higher taxes, permanent deficits and fewer jobs.

To Jewish voters, specifically, I think there is one party, and, frankly, one government in the world, that has been very consistent in our support for the State of Israel of the Jewish People, and standing up absolutely unconditionally and consistently against anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views. 

And that is the Conservative Party of Canada. It’s a matter of principle for us, and we will continue to do that. 

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