The race to be the leader of the Conservative Party

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

During the 2015 federal election campaign, then Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the argument that there was no greater friend to Israel than his Conservative government. It was a position sharply contested by the Justin Trudeau-led Liberals, who countered by arguing that there was no daylight between the Liberals and Conservatives when it comes to supporting the State of Israel.

In the end, the Trudeau Liberals won the election and formed the government. Harper resigned and the Conservative Party leadership was assumed by Andrew Scheer. But after a failed attempt to unseat Trudeau in the 2019 election, a campaign that many thought was his to lose, Scheer offered his resignation and now a number of candidates are vying for leadership of the Conservative Party.

The CJN contacted three of the leading candidates for the Tories’ top job to solicit their views on issues of concern to our readers. They are early favourite Peter MacKay, MP for Pictou-Antigonish-Guysborough, who’s held several senior posts in Harper’s cabinet: defence minister, foreign affairs minister and minister of justice and attorney general; Erin O’Toole, MP for Durham, former minister of veterans affairs and currently the Official Opposition critic for foreign affairs; and Marilyn Gladu, MP for Sarnia-Lambton and Official Opposition critic for health and chair of the Standing Committee on Status of Women. Earlier, Gladu served as the Official Opposition critic for science.

In a telephone interview with Gladu and in email correspondence with MacKay and O’Toole, all three expressed steadfast support for Israel.

As O’Toole said, “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.”

MacKay said that, “As the co-founder of the Conservative Party of Canada with Stephen Harper, I am proud of the strong relationship we built with Jewish communities across Canada and abroad. I am also proud of the unyielding support our Conservative government showed Israel directly at the UN, and internationally, and the deep friendship that we share with Israel. I will build on Stephen Harper’s legacy and continue to support Israel in Canada, at the United Nations and around the world.”

Gladu, referencing a passage in the Bible, said that those who bless Israel are blessed, while those who curse Israel are cursed.

“We should stand with Israel to pursue a peaceful two-state solution,” she said.

On the question of Jerusalem and Canada’s embassy in Israel, MacKay, Gladu and O’Toole signalled a shift from traditional Canadian policy, going further even than the Harper administration. All three said they would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the Canadian embassy there, steps already taken by the Trump Administration south of the border.

MacKay underscored this point by saying, “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. When I was defence minister, I made it clear that a threat to Israel is a threat to Canada and I will always stand with one of Canada’s closest allies.”

O’toole said, “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. The modern presence is even stronger – the Knesset, Supreme Court, the Foreign Ministry and most other government ministries are in West Jerusalem. I believe that we need more of a presence on 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.”

Gladu said, “Jerusalem is the capital and we should move our embassy there.” She added that such a move would not be an impediment to peace.

On the question of Canada’s continued funding of UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency, whose mandate is to help Palestinian refugees, but which has been accused of siding with Hamas, employing anti-Israel school curricula and even allowing weapons to be stored in their facilities, Gladu said, “I would definitely defund UNRWA. It funds terrorism and anti-Semitic education. This is not an organization that represents Canadian values and I would defund it.”

She also said that there is no transparency as to how funds sent from Canada are being spent, suggesting they could be going to support Hamas and promote anti-Semitic education.

MacKay, referencing the Harper government, said, “The United Nations and their various programs have a questionable history of anti-Israel positions and policies. When I was in government, we removed funding for UNRWA due to its ties to Hamas, which the Liberals then restored in 2016. If the UN does not work towards treating Israel fairly in the short term, Canada will stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel and reconsider funding and support of causes like UNRWA.”

O’Toole shared similar sentiments saying, “I will end funding for UNRWA unless it is significantly reformed. It cannot under any circumstances provide support to terror organizations or their affiliates. It also cannot create dependencies, which serve as a deterrent to lasting peace and deter resettlement efforts in other parts of the World. Canada will not continue funding if these reforms are not underway by the midway point of our first term.”

As to sanctioning Iran, which has called for the destruction of Israel, O’Toole said, “We need to hold the Iranian regime accountable to its human rights obligations by levying Magnitsky sanctions (restrictive measures against foreign nationals responsible for gross violations of human rights), confront its policy of state-sponsored terror by listing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist entity and work with allies to counter its instability abroad, and work with international partners to end its nuclear weapons program. We must show leadership to ensure that the Iranian regime does not succeed with its deception of the West.”

Gladu likewise favoured sanctions on Iran, saying the country is known to fund terrorism and “they are clear they want to annihilate Israel.”

She also referenced Iran’s Jan. 8 shooting down of a civilian passenger plane, soon after taking off from Tehran, “full of Canadians, which demonstrates it hasn’t changed.”

MacKay agreed that Canada should employ the Magnitsky Act “against human rights abusers and corrupt officials from the Iranian regime. We should also identify and investigate individuals and organizations lobbying, even unofficially, for the Iranian regime in Canada … We should also immediately list all branches of the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) as a terrorist organization.

Turning to anti-Semitism in Canada, MacKay said, “Hate crimes and attacks against any community or Canadian is abhorrent and shocking for a peaceful country like Canada, yet the reality is that Jewish Canadians are increasingly threatened and targeted. The fact that schools and places of worship require security is fa blight on our society. The federal government must do whatever it takes to stop hate crimes. As minister of justice, I brought in stiffer penalties for dangerous offenders. Dealing with hate crimes is a priority that I plan on addressing as prime minister.”

“The federal government has a responsibility to show leadership to fight hate crimes,” O’Toole said, “We need a prime minister who will stand strong against anti-Semitism in Canada including on university campuses and vocally oppose efforts to isolate Israel, particularly as calls to isolate Israel are often thinly-veiled anti-Semitism.”

Gladu said that education and tolerance for religious freedoms must be reinforced in Canada.

She said Canadian legislation is too vague when it comes to defining anti-Semitic behaviour and she would consider amending Canadian law to include the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition.

In addition, for immigrants from countries with high levels of anti-Semitism, “it must be clear that this is illegal in Canada.”

She noted that recent refugee arrivals to Canada came from countries where “anti-Semitism has prevailed” or where beating wives and girls was “common.”

Anti-Semitism is totally not in alignment with Canadian values. We need to take action to keep our Jewish community safe and stand with our ally, Israel,” Gladu said.

Gladu said she would favour increased funding to vulnerable communities for security purposes.

“People are afraid and there needs to be funding for churches, temples, mosques and schools,” she said.

O’Toole agreed that the federal security assistance program for at risk communities be expanded.

“The government needs to do its part supporting at risk communities. I support expanding the program to help support the costs of hiring security staff,” he said.

MacKay said, “We need to work with all levels of government and law enforcement agencies to ensure communities that are at risk are supported and safe. Nobody should have to live in fear when they go to a religious service, open their business or attend events in their community and we should look at strengthening any program to achieve that, which might include support for additional security provisions, security cameras and other safety measures as compensation for at risk communities.”

MacKay went on to say he is “proud of the unyielding support our Conservative government showed Israel directly at the UN, and internationally, and the deep friendship that we share with Israel. I will build on Stephen Harper’s legacy and continue to support Israel in Canada, at the United Nations, and around the world.”

“I believe that Canada should strengthen ties to Israel,” O’Toole said. “One small but meaningful measure that I would take is to develop an exchange program between the Canadian Armed Forces and Israel Defense Forces to allow for a deeper relationship between our militaries.”