"Stephen Harper Has Become An Antagonizing Force" — Interview With Former Canadian MP Omar Alghabra


Last week I sat with former Liberal MP Omar Alghabra, who was also a member of Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party leadership election campaign team which emerged the victor last Sunday. The discussion revolved around his views on Canada's role in the world today, from issues in the Middle East to the proposed Keystone Pipeline I.

US: Nearly three years, ago in an interview with the Winnipeg Jewish Review, Trudeau commented that Canada needs a more balanced approach to the Middle East peace process. Do you hold this position as well?

OA: I totally agree with what Justin said three years ago and he has been saying this throughout this campaign. Recently he said that Canada stop being useful on the international arena, including in the Middle East. And being useful means is what Canada used to do in the past where they used to offer solutions or volunteer to facilitate but unfortunately Canada under Stephen Harper has become an antagonizing force and the same is true for the Middle East, in matters of climate change and they don't appear to be interested in finding solutions.

US: What is your view on the latest actions of Mahmoud Abbas when he declared Palestinian Statehood at the UN last September and Canada’s reaction to it?

OA: Mr. Harper's point of view of the world and including the Middle East is incredibly simplistic and superficial. I wonder if he really believes what he says because at times it is really frustrating to hear that a leader of a country like Canada would speak in such simplistic terms. Anybody who watches the Israeli media sees a lot more thoughtful debate goes on there, than in Mr. Harper's team on the Israeli issue. It is polarizing, simplistic, and unproductive. I was quite frustrated with Stephen Harper's decision to join a very, very small group of countries that most people in Canada haven’t heard of and go against the resolution.

US: How do you feel about Canada's resistance in joining the French over in Mali?

OA: I find the situation in Mali is quite complicated. It's been happening for years based on the research that I've done or the information that I have seen. It did not just start last week or last month and we need to be very careful, as a country before we decide to militarily intervene. Before we do that like we really need to know what the purpose is, what our objectives are, who are we helping. This is because there are a lot of questions right now about the militias that are rising up, as they have a terrible record and questionable values. The government also has a questionable record, if not similar. Therefore I would caution against reducing the conflict in Mali to simple answers.

US: How do you see the controversy around the Keystone pipeline?

We are blessed to have natural resources. At the end of the day whether we use rails, trucks or pipeline, the question before us is that how do we maintain some sort of guarantee of safety and how do we benefit from it. The Keystone pipeline has many problematic issues, as it's going over many delicate land areas where aboriginal people live and they haven't been consulted and therefore there can be many problems with it.

US: Currently there is a great refugee crisis in place like Syria. Do you believe Canada has shown a compassionate stance towards the war torn population of the country?

OA: The Canadian government and I personally believe have at least used somewhat the right rhetoric towards what's happening in Syria, about what's happening to civilians in terms of the suffering and their bombardment but there's very little action to back it up. Canada in the past has offered humanitarian aid or logistical support, however we haven't seen more action from the Canadian government on Syria at this point. I would personally like to see the Canadian government take a leadership role and become useful in finding a way not only to help civilians who are suffering but to end the crisis in Syria.