Conflict in Middle East could reshape Canada’s political map - New Canadian Media
At recent pro-Palestinian protests across Canada in the wake of Israel’s war in Gaza, retaliating for Hamas’ heinous attack on civilians Oct. 7 , the Trudeau government has been criticized for being “one-sided.” Stock image by Nur Dogan/New Canadian Media. 

Conflict in Middle East could reshape Canada’s political map

Canada’s UN vote in favour of a humanitarian ceasefire “a small step in the right direction,” a Muslim advocacy group says.

Prominent Muslim organizations have been lining up to take credit for Canada’s vote at the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday calling for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. Capitalizing on this, they are also using the vote as an opportunity to appeal for donations. 

“While this act (UN vote) is overdue, it is a small step in the right direction and a testament to our collective advocacy efforts,” Taha Ghayyur, Executive Director, Justice For All Canada, said in an email to supporters. 

“You sent millions of emails; you made thousands of phone calls; you marched in the streets. From Parliament to the courts, from our homes to the public square and everything in between, our community came together like never before to stand up for Palestine,” wrote Stephen Brown, CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). 

But behind the scenes and far from the limelight, the real work to affect policy change is being done by a number of ad hoc networks consisting of dozens of influential Liberal insiders, some with varying degrees of access to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and members of his cabinet, New Canadian Media has learned. 

A handful of professionals, mostly doctors and lawyers, have been urging the prime minister to act decisively to end the cycle of violence and take steps to bring about a lasting peace in the Middle East.  

Using WhatsApp and other platforms, these Liberal insiders have been meeting on a regular basis ever since the conflict began to brainstorm a range of political strategies. 

“During the first week of Israel’s war on Gaza, Trudeau’s response was okay, but then it got so horrible and one-sided that many of us were beginning to lose our minds,” said a prominent Muslim lawyer who asked not to be identified.   

He said that in late October a handful of Muslim professionals in Ontario held an in-person discussion with Prime Minister Trudeau and “we expressed our point of view and he appeared to listen.” 

“During the meeting we reminded the prime minister of his humanity and his excellent anti-Islamophobia initiatives. We said that Canada can’t play a vital role as a peacemaker in a rules-based order unless it was willing to condemn terrorism in all its forms,” said another Muslim lawyer who was at the meeting.  

‘Insufficient’ condemnation

But when Trudeau refused to sufficiently condemn the carnage in Gaza, a number of Canadian Muslim professionals grew increasingly outraged. In early December, the CBC reported that a network made up of 400 members sent a formal letter to Liberal Party president Sachit Mehra, announcing that they’ve decided to exit the Laurier Club. 

Sir Wilfrid Laurier established the Laurier Club in 1918 when he sent out 600 letters to community leaders and business professionals asking for their financial support. The Liberal Party today relies on the club as a critical source of funding. 

As the death toll in Gaza and the occupied West Bank began climbing as Israel launched an all-out assault to retaliate against Hamas’ horrific attack on civilians on Oct. 7, one network of Liberal insiders began discussing a number of strategic options including an exodus from the party to a demand for the resignation of Trudeau, a move that could trigger a leadership race when the party has been down in the polls.     

“It’s a live debate. Some want Trudeau gone today. Some want to see if he improves by March. There is no consensus as yet,” a long-time Liberal supporter told New Canadian Media. 

After Canada’s vote at the UN General Assembly, the lawyer who asked not to  be identified, said that members of his network agreed to stand down and not escalate their demands until the new year. 

A realignment?

But as Israel’s war against Hamas continues unabated, it could spell trouble for Canada’s major political parties going into the new year.  

Members of three GTA mosque executives who have served their communities for decades say Muslims have never been this unified around a single issue as they are in their condemnation of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. 

According to current census reports, Canada’s Muslim population is approximately 1.8 million with the majority of Muslims residing in southern Ontario, Alberta and Quebec. 

“There are a total of 50-70 ridings in Canada where Muslims can make a difference,” says Umair Ashraf, executive director of The Canadian Muslim Vote (CMV), a non-profit and non-partisan organization that has been working since 2015 to encourage Muslims to participate in the electoral system. 

Liberal, Conservative and the NDP party strategists are well aware that in at least 10 ridings in the Greater Toronto Area, the Muslim vote can determine who wins the seat and who ultimately will form a majority in the House of Commons.

In the riding of Mississauga-Erin Mills, a seat currently held by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, there are an estimated 25,000 to 28,000 Muslims, the highest demographic concentration in all of Canada. 

“Between 2015 and 2019 there was a significant dip in civic participation by Muslims attributed to the fact that there is a high degree of trust in the Liberal Party,” Ashraf said. 

However, in the last 60 days CMV has been observing a noticeable erosion of that trust. People are expressing disappointment and openly saying that the Liberals have betrayed the community, he said.

Voter apathy

It is extremely difficult for anyone to provide an accurate read of how things would likely play out if an election were to be held in the new year. Many believe that if  the war in Gaza drags on and the body count continues to rise, it could reshape the Canadian political map. 

Just back from meetings in Vancouver, Ashraf says the Muslim community appears to be fractured. “There is no consensus on how to engage the civic space and there is no real leadership to provide direction,” he says.

“Among the 18-30 age group there is now a great sense of apathy when it comes to politics,” Ashraf says. “Driving the apathy is the fact that people are not seeing a return on their investment in the civic process.”  

More worrisome to Ashraf and his team at CMV is how to encourage the younger age group of Canadian Muslims to remain committed to the process of civic engagement when their gut is telling them that it is a waste of time and effort. 

“Some young Muslims are telling us they plan on spoiling their ballots at the next federal elections; some have lost hope in the Liberals and a small percentage say they are willing to take a leap of faith and give the Conservatives or NDP a chance to prove they’re different,” Ashraf says.   

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Nazim has extensive experience reporting throughout the Middle East, including in Israel and Palestine. As a recently retired journalist with the CBC, Nazim was a driving force at the national broadcaster on some of the most impactful stories of our time. Nazim produced news, feature reports and investigative documentaries for multiple CBC platforms from May 1990 until earlier this year. Nazim distinguished himself by cultivating a niche of his own in the national security space, producing stories about violent religious extremism and right-wing, ideologically motivated hate and racism, and more recently, the plight of international Indian students. As a former unofficial CBC resident "expert" on Islam, Muslims and the Middle East, Nazim has become adept at informing story selection and production so as to avoid bias, stereotypes and racism.

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