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Tory Leadership Hopefuls Should Drop Harper's Divisive Iran Rhetoric

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During a Conservative leadership debate on Feb. 19, 2017 in Vancouver, the candidates were asked the following question about Canada-Iran relations: "It is very possible that Justin Trudeau will restore relations with Iran. As leader, would you rescind this?" Unfortunately, responses from most of the concerned candidates endorsed the same failed policies of the previous federal government.

These are policies which have created significant problems for the Iranian Canadian community (a population estimated at over 300,000 nationwide), harmed Canada's business interests, and eroded Canada's international standing as an honest promoter of peace and dialogue. Views expressed by most of the candidates were based on faulty and even verifiably false information.

vancouver conservative debate
Conservative Party leader candidates participate in the Conservative Party of Canada leadership debate in Vancouver on Feb. 19, 2017. Fourteen candidates are vying to succeed Stephen Harper for the leadership role of the Conservative Party of Canada. (Photo: Ben Nelms/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

At the event in Vancouver, five candidates answered this question -- with Andrew Saxton, Lisa Raitt, and Andrew Scheer stating that they would rescind re-engagement completely, while Chris Alexander and Brad Trost expressed that they would not rescind re-engagement. Andrew Saxton and Lisa Raitt stated that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons and asserted that the international agreement on Iran's nuclear program is not working, in opposition to the facts as presented by numerous respected international organizations.

An extremely recent report (Feb. 24, 2017) by the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency found that Iran is fully complying with the 2015 agreement (known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) it signed with the world's major powers. According to this report, the country stockpile of low-enriched uranium is even considerably below the limit agreed (101.7 kilograms as opposed to the limit of 300 kilograms).

Therefore, it is a patent misrepresentation of the facts to say that Iran is not complying with its international obligations; as a signatory to the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Canada should support these steps towards peace and nuclear non-proliferation instead of ignoring them and endorsing divisive actions such as sanctions and diplomatic isolation. Furthermore, Canada is internationally obligated to comply with the terms of the JCPOA, ushered into international law by United Nation Security Council resolution 2231, by refraining from any actions that may undermine the multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran, including imposing sanctions.

At least some in the party realize that the same old tired line on Iran is not working.

Another issue that was raised by the candidates consisted of concerns about Iran's regional policies and its behaviour in the Middle East. Canada needs to engage with Iran to resolve its differences with that country, rather than walking away from the table and precluding any influence we could have with one of the most powerful countries in the region.

Comments made by some of the candidates also betray a deeply problematic double standard which singles out Iran for activities and behaviour that is similar to some of the countries Canada has close and friendly relations with, notably Saudi Arabia. This double standard was even pointed out to by some of the individuals in the audience, who took it upon themselves to yell their opinion at the candidates. Canada's foreign policy has to be based on Canadian values of promoting peace, dialogue and cooperation rather than those of isolation and divisiveness.

There is hope for the Conservative party, however. Statements made by Brad Trost, and to a lesser extent those made by former Minister Chris Alexander, during the exchange in Vancouver show that at least some in the party realize that the same old tired line on Iran is not working. Canada needs to re-engage with Iran not only in order to follow its allies in the international community in having diplomatic relations with Iran (as said by Mr. Alexander), but also in order to adequately represent its citizens of Iranian heritage who continue to have social, economic and familial ties with the country, a point made eloquently by Mr. Trost.

brad trost
Brad Trost, member of Parliament and Conservative Party leader candidate, at the Conservative Party of Canada leadership debate in Vancouver, on Feb. 19, 2017. (Photo: Ben Nelms/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The breaking of diplomatic ties and the sanctions imposed on Iran by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper disproportionately harmed the Iranian-Canadian community. Not only were Iranian-Canadians denied access to crucially important consular services and representation by Canada in Iran, but Iranian-Canadian entrepreneurs dependent on trade between the two countries suddenly found their legitimate business activities rendered illegal. This is in addition to the harm for the Canadian economy generally in export revenue due to sanctions on Iran, a number estimated at between $1.18 and $4.69 billion in the years between 2010 and 2014.

Canada's breaking of economic and diplomatic ties with Iran has harmed Iranian-Canadians, the Canadian economy and Canada's international standing. The Conservative leadership candidates should recognize this fact, and not repeat the same old policies which not only harmed Canada, but also led to their electoral defeat in ridings with large numbers of Iranian-Canadians in the last federal election.

At this time of global turmoil and uncertainty, it is important for all of Canada's political parties to squarely place themselves on the side of international peace and dialogue, rather than espousing isolationist and isolating rhetoric which will only harm Canada's interests.

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