To avoid another Trump, register Conservative, Canadian Muslims urged
What’s the best way to avoid a Trump-like candidate in the next Canadian federal election?
Register as a Conservative voter. That’s the message behind a quiet digital movement sweeping through the country right now to stem what organisers say is the “American-style politics currently dominating” the Conservative leadership race.
It’s also a message being echoed by many Muslims – including religious leaders.
“Call to action for the Muslim community!” Shaykh Omar Subedar posted on his Facebook feed on March 21st. “If you don't want Trump wannabes like Kellie Leitch potentially becoming the Prime Minister of our great country, you need to ACT NOW!”
The plan, he adds, is “to support a genuine candidate that lives and promotes ethics and values all Canadians can be proud of”.
The Canadian-born Islamic scholar from Brampton, Ontario posted a screenshot of his membership confirmation in support of Conservative candidate Michael Chong.
“I'm a [paying] member now and am making my entire family become members. You do the same for the safety of our community and country,” he said.
Shaykh Omar is one of hundreds of Canadians actively encouraging voters to become members of the Conservative Party – and vote in the upcoming leadership election in May.
It’s a message that Siraj Syed, a Toronto university student and Imam-in-training, says immediately raises a red flag with Muslims, who historically have voted overwhelmingly for the Liberal Party. “As soon as you tell them to vote Conservative, they’re like: ‘Are you kidding me? Why Conservative?”
“Then you tell them what the real purpose is… that we’re trying to shift the vote within the party so that in a few years we have a strong opposition [to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ruling Liberal party]. Then they come on board and start spreading the word.”
The move to push Canadians to register as paying members of Canada’s opposition party (a $15 fee is required) has gained momentum as Conservative leadership elections draw closer – and after one perceived front-runner, Kellie Lietch, made headlines last November for declaring that US President Donald Trump’s win “was an exciting message for Canadians”.
|In February, Lietch advocated for a required screening of immigrants, including asking them: “Are men and woman equal"|
Her words struck a chord within Liberal and Conservative voters alike.
Grassroots campaigns including A Strong Canada, Intolerable Opposition and End Bigotry all launched online social media campaigns with a common goal: To stop candidates like Kellie Lietch and billionaire corporatist Kevin O’Leary from winning the Conservative leadership race in May and earning a viable chance of winning the next federal election in 2019.
Polls currently place Kevin O’Leary, a successful entrepreneur, in first place. O’Leary has celebrity status among Canadians for his former stints on reality television programmes Shark Tank and Dragons' Den – where entrepreneur-contestants make business presentations to a panel of "shark" investors, who then choose whether or not to invest.
O’Leary, who was born in Canada but lives in the US, has not yet been explicit on his views on immigration. Political observers affirm that his policies lean towards championing deregulation and American-style corporate culture.
A statement released by A Strong Canada earlier this month is very critical of O’Leary as a viable leadership candidate.
“Canada was able to weather the massive economic downturn thanks to conservative banking regulations and a strong natural resources sector,” it read.
“O’Leary frequently states his desire to kill the very regulations that protected Canada from experiencing the economic turmoil still playing out in the States.”
The race’s other speculated front-runner is Kellie Lietch, a former surgeon from Winnipeg, Manitoba.
In February, Lietch advocated for a required screening of immigrants, including asking them: “Are men and woman equal, and entitled to equal protection under the law?” and “Is it ever ok to coerce or use violence against an individual or a group who disagrees with your views?”
It’s an approach that some of the eight other Conservative candidates, including MP’s Michael Chong, Lisa Raitt, Andrew Scheer, Steven Blaney, Deepak Obhrai and former MP Chris Alexander, say is actually hurting the party.
|Shouldn't we continue to support the Liberals and help them improve where they are lacking?
- Sumaiya Ali
"Ms. Leitch's proposal to screen every immigrant and visitor is nothing but Donald Trump's executive order, disguised as Canadian values, and crafted to keep Muslims out of Canada," Obhrai said the same day Leitch declared her proposed screening test for immigrants. "This is a dangerous environment to create in Canada, and I am outraged by this," he added.
To Syed, the mere prospect of a candidate like Kellie Leitch running as an opposition leader in the next federal election is chilling.
“If Leitch or O’Leary wins, it just amplifies everything ten-fold. Either you can wait for that to happen or you work on it. This is cautionary work.”
But not all Muslims agree that joining the Conservative party is the way forward.
“Shouldn't we continue to support the Liberals and help them improve where they are lacking?” asked Toronto resident Sumaiya Ali after Shaykh Omar’s call-out.
“The Conservative agenda will never change. It's a given. We need to look at the past to plan a future. Candidates are a face; agenda comes from party.”
To which Shaykh Omar responded: “If you would like to not have a white-lash here in Canada in the near future, I'd suggest you exercise your democratic rights and privileges today to secure a better tomorrow. I'd rather have Chong as a leader than Leitch, if the Conservatives pull it off in the next federal election."
“Policies are dictated and applied by the leader,” he added. “Good leader - good policies. Not everyone in the Conservative party is anti-Muslim.”
Registration to the Conservative party, which is open to any Canadian permanent resident or citizen over 14 years of age, closes on March 28th.
Shenaz Kermalli teaches journalism at Humber College in Canada. She has previously worked as a producer and writer for BBC News, CBC News and Al Jazeera English.
Follow her on Twitter: @mskermalli