Liberal Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne being pressed on his government's complicity in the slaughter of 30,000 Palestinians.
Liberal Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne being pressed on his government's complicity in the slaughter of 30,000 Palestinians. Credit: Yves Engler Credit: Yves Engler

Among the tools pro-Palestine activists need to employ against the Canadian government’s enabling of Israel’s genocide is a credible plan to punish the Liberal Party electorally. It won’t be easy because foreign policy seldom plays a significant role in elections, but there are reasons to believe it’s possible.

In the US there’s been significant discussion about the Democratic base withdrawing support for Genocide Joe Biden. With a large Arab population, the battleground state of Michigan is ground zero for the effort to punish Biden electorally. In last Tuesday’s Democratic primary over 100,000 Michiganders voted “uncommitted” as part of a highly successful grassroots campaign to protest Biden’s Gaza policy.

Last Thursday George Galloway won a byelection in the heavily Muslim and working-class town of Rochdale, near Manchester, England. Running on a pro-Palestinian plank, Galloway took the long-time Labour party stronghold by massive margin for the leftist Workers Party of Britain. After the victory Galloway told anti-Palestinian Labour leader Keir Starmer, “this is for Gaza.”

In Canada there’s been relatively little discussion about punishing the Liberals for enabling genocide. This is due to media bias in favour of Israel and that elections aren’t expected soon, which means the anger driving the unprecedented popular uprising might have subsided by the time the writ is dropped. That may prove to be the case, but the minority government could fall at any point and the Palestine solidarity movement has established a network across the country to target specific ridings.

Last weekend the network hosted riding focused town halls across the country. The coalition’s demands are for Canada to do everything in its power to implement a ceasefire, pressure Israel to lift its siege on Gaza and end its complicity in Israel’s occupation. Their “Free Palestine: Neighbourhood Organizing Toolkit” explains, “As we are focusing on Canadian elected officials, we are framing the demands as: We call on MPs to do everything in their power to make the ceasefire real by ending Canadian complicity in Israeli genocide including:  Imposing a two-way arms embargo on Israel, including arms-trade via the United States and; Pressure Israel to end the siege on Gaza.”

I recently met organizers with Hochelaga pour la Palestine and a Laurier—Sainte-Marie Palestine group who are focused on environment minister Steven Guilbeault and tourism minister Soraya Martinez Ferrada. Targeting these ridings makes sense for a series of reasons. Both are ministers with profile and greater responsibility for government policy. Both won their seats by relatively small margins. Both are relatively left-wing ridings with no chance of electing a Conservative. Both are compact ridings good for postering and with public transit nodes amenable to leafleting.

In our discussion I counselled the organizers to avoid promoting the opposition parties’ trying to win the seats, to focus on issue-based criticism and concentrate their efforts.

My advice is partly based on a successful anti-imperialist grassroots electoral campaign. During the 2006 federal election Haiti solidarity activists in Montreal initiated a major campaign that contributed to the defeat of foreign minister Pierre Pettigrew. Unhappy with his role in overthrowing the Caribbean state’s elected government and backing a murderous dictatorship, we put up over 2,000 posters in the riding with Pettigrew’s photo and the tagline “Wanted: for crimes against humanity in Haiti.” During the six-week election period we also handed out 15,000 leaflets about Haiti at metro stations and elsewhere in the riding. Additionally, we organized a series of rallies and press conferences critical of Pettigrew’s role in the Caribbean nation.

After Pettigrew lost his seat, newspapers La Presse and Le Devoir credited our campaign with playing a spoiler role. Months later Pettigrew’s campaign manager would admit that we contributed to the foreign minister’s defeat.

Similar campaigns targeting Guilbeault and Ferrada would be doable. The polling is fortuitous. According to a recent Angus Reid survey, 41 per cent of Canadians believe “Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians” (32 per cent believe “Israel is not committing genocide” while (27 per cent were unsure.) The numbers are higher among Liberal voters.

A grassroots organizing effort in BC recently ousted provincial minister Selina Robinson due to her odious anti-Palestinianism. If activists devote sufficient energy a targeted campaign of leafleting, postering, rallies and bird dogging could help defeat two Montreal Liberal ministers for their complicity in genocide.

In major cities across the country one (at most two) Liberal MPs in strategic ridings could be selected to run an anti-genocide campaign.

Preparing such a campaign would send an important message to the Trudeau government. Successfully carrying it out would demonstrate there can be international human rights utility in engaging in electoral politics.

Yves Engler

Dubbed “Canada’s version of Noam Chomsky” (Georgia Straight), “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I. F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), “part...