What does Canada’s new Liberal government mean to the Middle East?

Friday 30/10/2015
Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau gives his victory speech in Montreal, Quebec, on October 19th.

Ottawa - Canada’s Liberal Party will return to lead the country after winning the Octo­ber 19th federal elections, ending the nine-year reign of Conservatives. The Liberals won a surprise majority, taking 184 seats in the House of Commons out of 338.
Justin Trudeau, the son of the charismatic former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, is to be sworn in as Canada’s new prime minister on November 4th. Trudeau carried his party to a historic victory by pro­moting what he called “positive pol­itics”, declaring Canada’s shift from conservatism to liberalism.
This move signals a new era of the nation’s foreign policy, specifically towards the Middle East and the Arab world. During the campaign, the Liberals promised to change Canada’s foreign policy and interna­tional presence. Now that they have gained the leadership, the Liberals will need to focus on implement­ing promises made during the cam­paigns.
When the image of the 3-year-old Syrian boy who died in the Medi­terranean horrified the world, the Canadian public called on the gov­ernment to respond. During the campaign, the Liberals promised to transport 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of 2015, if elect­ed to power. Trudeau assured the country that he planned to deliver on his promise.
“That’s something we’re getting cracking on right away,” Trudeau answered when asked October 24th about the refugee commitment in an interview with CTV. “I know this is a surprise to certain people within the political universe but the commit­ments I made in that platform, I’m going to keep.”
“It’s a good thing that the new government hasn’t forgotten about this promise,” said Aditya Rao, a law school student and organiser of Ot­tawa’s Refugees Welcome, an activ­ist group that has rallied in Canada’s capital to raise awareness and pres­sure the government to bring in refugees.
“The challenge will be actu­ally making it happen,” he added. “They’ve been elected on that man­date.” Critics, however, are sceptical of whether Trudeau’s fulfilling the pledge for Syrian refugees is feasi­ble. Under the Conservative Party, Canada took in 2,300 Syrians over three years as of September, despite a commitment to accept 10,000. While he was a member of parlia­ment, Trudeau demanded that the Conservatives expedite the process­ing of Syrian refugees.
Trudeau’s plans for refugee reset­tlement have gained the support of many Canadians, including the Syri­an-Canadian community.
During his campaign, Trudeau expressed support for sending Ca­nadian military planes with immi­gration officials to airlift Syrian refu­gees out of the Middle East. Canada conducted a similar mission in 1979, transporting Vietnamese refugees to Canada.
Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011, Canada has contribut­ed more than $700 million to Syrian aid efforts. The Liberals said they would spend $100 million more to provide humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees in the region.
The Liberals also plan to end Can­ada’s role in the fight against the Is­lamic State (ISIS). One day after his victory speech, Trudeau notified US President Barack Obama that Cana­da would terminate its participation in the US-led coalition against ISIS.
The Royal Canadian Air Force has six CF-18 fighter jets participating in the bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria. Canadian air jets have con­ducted more than 180 air strikes in Iraq and Syria.
Trudeau stated, however, that the country is not evading the fight against ISIS but rather is committing to “engage in a responsible way”. He has not indicated when or how the withdrawal would happen.
Bessma Momani, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Gov­ernance Innovation and an associate professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, says that it is a politically “smart” move by the Liberals to distinguish their foreign policy from the Conservatives. She says ending Canada’s minor con­tribution of six jets to the bombing campaign would not “disturb the [US-led] coalition”.
Momani, however, says that com­plete disengagement from the fight against ISIS could result in unfa­vourable outcomes. “We don’t want to give the military combat com­pletely to the Americans to decide how they want to do it,” she said, adding that she wants to see “a Ca­nadian perspective involved in the decision-making about what air strikes are hit and why”.
Momani noted that Canadian in­put in the coalition bombing is im­portant as it could decrease the pos­sibility of having civilian casualties.
“We [Canadians] are much more cautious,” said Momani. “No one wants to see a loose bombing cam­paign.”
Canada also has special forces stationed in northern Iraq with a mission to train Kurdish peshmerga fighters. Trudeau vowed to keep the trainers in place. The Liberals plan for Canada’s contribution in the re­gion to be training local fighters and increase humanitarian support.