FUREY: The rise of the organized Muslim vote in Canada
A number of puzzled columnists and policy experts are currently trying to figure out why it was that Canada under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has broken with its tradition of voting down United Nations resolutions that denounce Israel and – as happened last week – joining the pile-on to condemn the only Jewish state in the world.
So far the working conclusion they’ve arrived at is that it was done because Trudeau covets a two-year seat at the Security Council and this is one way to win over votes at the notoriously anti-Israel body. That’s no doubt part of it.
There could be something else at play though: Maybe this is just what Canadian voters want. Or at least what one highly motivated and increasingly influential segment of the electorate wants.
In the months leading up to the election, a group called The Canadian Muslim-Vote (TCMV) was unapologetic in predicting the power the organized Muslim vote could yield over the 2019 federal election results.
“The Canadian Muslim community has the numbers to decide the winners and losers this election, which directly impacts the composition of the government we will have,” TCMV executive director Ali Manek wrote in a press release that went out on October 17 – just days before the election. “Muslim voters have turned out to the Advance Polls over Muslim Vote Weekend and we will be there on election day because we understand that we speak the loudest when we vote.”
TCMV also released the results of an online survey, finding that the top three issues selected by Muslim voters were immigration (64%), foreign policy (60%) and healthcare funding (58%).
The poll did not further break down what particular foreign affairs issue animated Muslims in Canada. However, the controversial Canadian Muslim Voting Guide – authored by Wilfrid Laurier University professor Jasmine Zine with support from a federal grant – had sections on foreign policy that pushed Muslim voters to judge the issue solely through the lens of boycotting Israel while supporting Muslim majority countries in North Africa, South Asia and the Middle East.
What do you think the answer would have been if TCMV had polled to ask which way Canada should vote on UN resolutions concerning Israel?
Now it would be entirely unfair to say that all Muslims in Canada are de facto anti-Israel. For example, the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee regularly has Muslim allies helping to organize and boost their events. And there were Muslim activists and candidates happy to campaign alongside the Conservative Party of Canada, which is proud of its pro-Israel stance.
But let’s not kid ourselves either. Whether it’s the recurring news stories of imams preaching anti-Semitism or events like the recent anti-Israel violence that erupted on York University campus last week, there’s a running theme going on that’s pretty easy to figure out.
While the Muslim community has always been targeted as a special interest voting bloc – what my colleague Tarek Fatah laments as the ghettoization of politics – this was in the past an ad hoc operation. It was a community affair that happened riding-by-riding and was more about political strategists organizing them than Muslim groups organizing themselves.
That’s clearly changing – whether through Manek’s national project or smaller scale efforts, like attempts to register an Islamic Party of Ontario with Elections Ontario. (The latter seems to have fallen apart, although when I spoke with Jawed Anwar, its leader, earlier this year he said he was quite serious and committed.)
In fact, the TCMV even went so far as to produce a list of 73 closely fought ridings where they predicted that Canada’s estimated 765,000 registered Muslim voters could decide the winner. They wrote that mosques in 17 of those ridings had already participated in get-out-the-vote initiatives and bragged that “in the recently concluded Alberta provincial election mosques used Friday sermons to encourage Muslims to vote.”
My colleague Farzana Hassan predicted these possibilities back in September, before TCMV released their targeted ridings list. “It will be interesting to see how the election unfolds from a Muslim perspective,” she wrote. “With support for Trudeau and Scheer neck and neck, the Muslim vote may determine how the result goes in swing ridings.”
There is no serious exit polling conducted in Canada, so for all we know the Muslim vote did determine the outcome in multiple ridings and Manek’s project was a success.
Over a decade ago I watched as Muslim women were literally bused in to a Liberal nomination meeting and then instructed on how to vote by the neighbourhood imam. Operations like TCMV – a self-described non-partisan operation – are basically an attempt to do this on a national scale. (As an aside, it should be noted that Ali Manek has previously sought Liberal nominations on both the provincial and federal level.)
Demography is destiny, as the saying goes. Yet people are sheepish about discussing this issue. It’s considered politically incorrect to even acknowledge that the Muslim population – and therefore the Muslim vote – is increasing in Canada faster than other groups. No wonder. The whole thing that spurred the human rights tribunal battles involving Mark Steyn over a decade ago was an essay that appeared in Maclean’s breaking down the population numbers game and what it means for the future.
You can talk about this or you can ignore it. You can see it as a positive, negative or neutral phenomenon. But whatever your take, there’s no denying that the Muslim vote in Canada is growing and so is its influence.