As reflected in last week’s parliamentary elections, Canadians were clearly looking for a change when they swept Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party out of office after nearly a decade in power. In the largest voter turnout in more than 20 years, the electorate handed a solid victory to the Liberals and their leader, Justin Trudeau, now the prime minister-designate.
In his foreign policy, Trudeau (the son of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau) will likely differ from Harper, but it is unlikely that he will shift from Canada’s traditional partnership with the United States or from its support for Israel. Although Trudeau informed President Barack Obama that he will withdraw Canada’s six fighter jets from the U.S.-led bombing campaign against the Islamic State group (which Harper approved), Trudeau’s announced support for the Iran nuclear deal puts him more in line with the Obama administration than Harper, who opposed the deal.
Harper’s Mideast positions were similar to those of U.S. congressional Republicans and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As a result, some feared that Israel would lose its best friend in Canada if Harper’s party were to lose the election. While Trudeau and the Liberals may not be quite as vocal or aggressive as Harper on Mideast issues, they are hardly hostile to Israel. During Israel’s 2014 war in Gaza, Trudeau wasn’t shy about labeling Hamas “a terrorist organization.” He has similarly condemned the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against the Jewish state in words that one observer described pejoratively as “right out of a Jewish Federation-style playbook.”
One change the Trudeau government is likely to make, however, is a shift in tone away from Harper’s American-like stridency to a more traditional Canadian style of kindness and gentleness. Harper was viewed as divisive and, according to many, used Israel as a wedge issue. In a debate, Trudeau accused him of using Israel as “a domestic political football.” Harper also magnified the issue of Canadian women wearing the Muslim niqab, and his hardline attitude influenced the Jewish community. One critic told Ha’aretz, “There’s a polarization I’ve never seen before in the Canadian Jewish
Polarization is a problem we Jews south of the border are very familiar with. We will be watching the Canadians to see how they cope with that issue and to see what we can learn.