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Canadian Muslims: Don't want a Trump in 2019? Join the Conservatives

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the best way to block candidates with anti-immigrant and Islamophobic stances may be to join them

Canada is literally weeks away from the possibility of a Trump-like Conservative candidate running in its next federal election in 2019.

It’s a prospect that leaves thousands of Canadian Muslims terrified - so much so that they’ve joined a quiet online movement urging people to do the only thing possible to avoid a Trump-style leader: join the opposition Conservative Party - before Conservative leadership elections take place in May.

But could an unpopular leader representing a fringe community be elected in Canada? 'Absolutely', says one activist

It may sound absurd – especially since Muslims in Canada have historically and overwhelmingly voted for the Liberal Party. Its more inclusionary stance on immigration and refugee policies have consistently made it the most attractive party for Muslims, thousands of whom immigrated under the world’s first "race-neutral", point-based immigration system implemented by the first Trudeau government - current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s father - in 1972.

The last federal elections in 2015 also left little room for doubt. Sixty-five percent voted for the Liberal Party, 10 percent for the New Democratic Party (NDP) and just two percent for the Conservative Party.

So why the push for Canadians – Muslim and otherwise - to join the Conservative party now?

A minority capturing a majority

“Our real fear is that a very small group of people who don’t represent the views of most Canadians would be able to capture the leadership of a major political party,” an activist with campaign group Tolerable Opposition told me. He didn't want to use his real name because the group has received threats for its campaigning.

“What we saw with Trump is that most Americans we have met don’t like or agree with him. They’re embarrassed by him. But he won because of the electoral college system in the United States - not the popular vote.”

But could an unpopular leader representing a fringe community be elected in Canada? 

“Absolutely,” said the activist, citing examples of possible curveball Conservative Party front-runners including MP Kellie Leitch or billionaire corporatist Kevin O’Leary.

“If they captured control of the party in the next federal election – and people are upset with Trudeau…”

He didn’t need to finish the thought.

'Severely normal people'

Leitch, one of the potential front-runners in the Conservative leadership race, has made no attempt to hide her prejudice towards immigrants or Muslims.

After gleefully declaring last November that US President Donald Trump’s electoral win “was an exciting message for Canadians”, Leitch began placing campaign ads in US alt-right website Breitbart advocating for mandatory "values tests" for screening Canadian immigrants, including asking the question: “Are men and woman equal, and entitled to equal protection under the law?”

Leitch is doing what Trump, his chief strategist Steve Bannon and the current anti-globalist entourage of ideologues is doing at the White House

In February, she spoke at Canadian right-wing news outlet Rebel Media’s "Freedom rally” at Canada Christian College in Toronto, telling the crowd: “It’s good to be in a room with severely normal people.” 

Reporters said several supporters gave what appeared to be enthusiastic Nazi salutes.

Leitch is doing what Trump, his chief strategist Steve Bannon and the current anti-globalist entourage of ideologues is doing at the White House, and making it more socially acceptable in Canada to condemn Muslims and minorities.

And numbers reflect this: a poll asking whether immigrants should be screened with a test on Canadian values indicated that 74 percent of respondents would either be "very" or "somewhat" in favour of that idea.

Wait . . . or do something

Even some Islamic scholars have come on board the movement to push for a larger Conservative Party membership.

“Call to action for the Muslim community!” Shaykh Omar Subedar, a Canadian-born imam from Brampton, Ontario, posted on Facebook earlier this week. “If you don't want Trump wannabes like Kellie Leitch potentially becoming the prime minister of our great country, you need to ACT NOW!”

“Learn how to play smart when living in the world,” Subedar added. “Always plan to be 10 steps ahead. Foresight is strength.”

When some Muslims responded critically, saying the Conservatives “would never change”, Subedar 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. If the Conservatives pull it off in the next federal election, I'd rather have Michael Chong [one of the six other Conservative candidates] as a leader than Leitch.”

Siraj Syed, a Toronto student and imam-in-training, couldn’t agree more. “Everyone has good intentions in the Muslim community,” he said. “But they complain a lot instead of taking a stand when necessary. It’s not really a crazy idea - it comes down to what the biggest priorities are right now. If Leitch or O’Leary wins, it just amplifies everything 10-fold.”

Either you can wait for that to happen, or do something about it, he said.

It’s a position all Canadian voters, Muslim or not, need to consider seriously – and fast. Registration in the Conservative party, which is open to any Canadian permanent resident or citizen over 14 years of age, closes on 28 March.

Shenaz Kermalli is a Toronto-based journalist with an interest in geopolitics and human rights. She currently teaches journalism at Humber College in Toronto. Her writing has appeared in CBC News, The Globe and Mail, The Ottawa Citizen, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, Foreign Policy and Al Jazeera English, among others.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: US President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, 13 February 2017 (AFP)

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