Andrew Scheer was two days old when Joe Clark was elected prime minister of Canada in 1979. In that election campaign, then-Progressive Conservative leader Clark promised to move the Canadian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
Cabinet documents recently released help explain why that promise was never fulfilled. There were diplomatic and, yes, commercial considerations though, at the time, the government claimed potential backlash from Arab states and businesses was not a factor.
Andrew Scheer is now leader of the Conservative party, facing a different Prime Minister Trudeau, and this week he promised to, well, you guessed it.
“Canada’s Conservatives led by Andrew Scheer will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital when we form government in 2019,” declares a pledge on the party’s website. It describes the party as “a strong voice for Israel and the Canadian Jewish community.”
The Conservative government under Stephen Harper was indeed a strong voice for Israel – at times the only government in the world to be so – and for the Jewish community in Canada. There is no reason to believe that a Conservative government under Scheer would be any different, but the politics around this pledge are disappointing.
The statement came in the form of a petition-type pledge on the party’s website. That is, for those unschooled in the modern art of email harvesting, a strategy – legitimate and legal, certainly – of inviting people who agree with a topic to sign their name (and share their email address). The party can then target that voter, knowing they have a particular interest in the topic.
Again, there is nothing untoward about this, in general. But if a party that wants to form government chooses to issue a significant platform plank or promise dealing with one of the most contentious diplomatic issues in the world, perhaps a speech in Parliament or other suitable venue would be a more appropriate medium than a partisan webpage unabashedly accumulating names of voters for future political solicitations.
It is also so blatantly an imitation of the U.S. president’s shameless move on the issue. As we wrote here at the time, Donald Trump’s actions were not motivated by principle, but by sheer political calculation. Or, inasmuch as that president is not given to overthinking matters, more intended as a slap in the face to his political enemies.
We will leave aside here whether the embassy move is a good idea, a fair one, timely or otherwise merited or unmerited on substance. The point here is that the Conservatives are exploiting this issue for political purposes – and that is not good for Israel or for Jewish Canadians.
When Justin Trudeau became prime minister and effectively adopted the same policy approach vis-à-vis Israel as his predecessor, it was clear that a Canadian consensus was essentially in place. The New Democratic Party, in convention a few days ago, managed to put a lid on most of whatever dissent there was on this topic. Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party, put her leadership on the line in the summer of 2016 to let her members know she would not lead a party with an extremist agenda toward Israel.
This consensus is not a result of stifling free expression or of Zionist power or of anything other than a fair Canadian reading of important world events. In other words, for whatever else we disagree on, Canadians, by and large, accept Israel’s right to exist free from terrorist attacks.
Scheer’s move this week is cynical. It turns the legitimate consideration of the embassy’s location into a partisan one, when it should be entertained within the broader consensus we have developed. That is not the kind of voice Israel or Jewish Canadians want from our elected representatives.