Despite numerous positive achievements during their time in office, when many Canadians, especially Muslims, think of the Conservatives, they remember the 2015 election, when the party resorted to dog-whistle politics by proposing to set up a hotline to report “barbaric cultural practises,” and to ban the niqab. Since taking over as leader, however, Erin O’Toole has worked hard to reclaim the trust of Canadian Muslims through outreach and by sharing his vision for a more inclusive party.
“We’re not your dad’s Conservative party anymore,” O’Toole said during the election campaign. “I just want to say up front that I know my party has ground to make up, so I’m here to listen to you. I want to know your thoughts, your hopes, fears and dreams, and I hope when Monday rolls around, even if you’re uncertain about your vote, you’ll look at Canada’s Conservatives a little differently.”
Although it is a broad message, it resonates with Canadian Muslims in many ways. I believe he is sincere and truthful in his commitment. Correcting the party’s mistakes, however, will take time and, unfortunately, his message failed to persuade enough of Canada’s 1.6 million Muslims.
The Liberals have taken numerous steps to court the Muslim vote — including passing a motion (M-103) calling on the government to condemn Islamophobia and conduct further research on the topic, creating a National Day of Remembrance and Action against Islamophobia and holding a National Summit on Islamophobia — yet none of these resulted in actual policy or legislation to combat hatred against Muslims.
This left many Canadian Muslims undecided in the final days of the election, because they expected more from the Liberals after six years in power. To address this, the Liberal party reminded Canadians that the Conservatives voted against M-103 and that it’s the same party that would not recognize Islamophobia.
Liberal candidates and supporters actively spread the message to Canadian Muslims that electing O’Toole would return the country to the divisive policies of 2015, which is far from the case. While groups like the Canadian Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Canadian Muslim Vote encouraged Canadians to vote based on an educated opinion informed by each party’s commitments, the Liberal party used fear to divert attention away from the real issues we faced in the election — and it worked.
Following their defeat at the polls, some Conservative strategists may draw the conclusion that Canadian Muslims simply do not vote Conservative, and that the party should not reach out to this community or try to address the issues that affect it.
Proposing to move the Canadian Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and avoiding any mention of Islamophobia were two aspects of the 2021 platform that made it difficult for many Muslims to support the Conservatives. Worse, the party may choose to revisit the 2015 election discourse in order to reclaim votes lost to the People’s Party of Canada, at the expense of the voters O’Toole worked so hard to cultivate, particularly in the Muslim community.
Now is the time to double down on O’Toole’s commitment to create a true “big blue tent.” The Conservative party made significant strides in this election by fielding several Muslim candidates. It can build on this by continuing to reach out to the Muslim community and showing Muslims that they are welcome within the party.
While O’Toole was unable to sway the Canadian Muslim vote enough to assist him in forming a government, these bellwether votes right across the country will be obtainable in the next election and should not be overlooked by the Conservatives.
Choosing policies that make it impossible for Muslims to support the party will only further alienate many Canadians and force the party to rely on the fringe vote. This will never be enough to win a majority and will allow the Liberals to continue to mobilize voters by sowing fear of a Conservative government. On the other hand, if the Conservatives commit to an inclusive agenda that truly represents all Canadians, they will have a viable chance of forming government in the next election.
Issam Saleh serves as a board member of the Canadian Muslim Public Affairs Council and Civida, and is a founder of YEG Muslim Vote.