Why did Trudeau pivot to toughness on Iran?
It was a remarkable scene to watch unfold. On Tuesday afternoon, Canada’s Liberal cabinet rose to vote on a Conservative motion calling on the government to get tough on Iran.
There was every reason to believe they’d vote against it. Conservative Senators had previously brought forward similar legislation and it was defeated last month by Justin Trudeau-appointed senators. So everyone figured they knew how Tuesday’s vote would go down: Conservatives in favour, Liberals mostly against.
Even Speaker Geoff Regan must have thought this. Because after he’d finished tallying the “yeas” from the Conservative side he then called to register the “nay” votes, as if he assumed the “yeas” were done. Then there were rumblings. Regan realized there were a few more “yeas” on other benches and reopened the count.
There were. And the first one to stand up was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself. Then the whole Liberal cabinet, followed by much of the caucus, stood up to vote in favour of the motion put forward by Conservative MP Garnett Genuis.
It’s hard to understate just what a reversal this represents. Trudeau campaigned on restoring diplomatic relations with Iran and this motion calls for the government to “abandon its current plan and immediately cease any and all negotiations or discussion with the Islamic Republic of Iran to restore diplomatic relations.” So what Trudeau did by supporting the motion was signal a complete change in the Canadian government’s Iran policy.
The other big action item in the motion is to add the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to Canada’s list of designated terrorist entities. The IRGC effectively manages the whole economy in Iran.
One reason Iranian people have taken to the streets in protest in recent months is because few of the spoils that came Iran’s way from the lifting of the sanctions following the nuclear agreement made their way to the regular people.
Trudeau has effectively signalled to Canadian businesses like Bombardier, which was in talks with Iran to sell them jets, they should no longer do business with the regime.
What exact form a new policy takes and when remain unclear.
“Public Safety (Canada) has taken note of the views members of Parliament expressed in today’s vote. However we cannot disclose what entities are being considered for listing under the Criminal Code terrorist listing regime,” said Scott Bardsley, spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. He also noted the IRGC’s Qods Force is already listed as a terrorist entity.
“I can’t claim to understand the thought process of the Liberal government to reject listing the IRGC a terrorist entity in a bill and then accept it today via Conservative motion,” Conservative Sen. Linda Frum said following the vote. “I’m just delighted that the Liberal government has seen the error of its ways and recognizes that the IRGC is a terrorist entity that deserves to be shunned and condemned by the government of Canada.”
It’s not yet clear why Trudeau made such a public about-face. Perhaps it had something to do with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s recent social media post about “eradicating” Israel, which drew strong condemnation from Jewish Liberal MPs. Maybe, as one national security source suggested, U.S. President Donald Trump pressured Trudeau on the broader issue at the G7. Or it’s about seeking support from Canada’s Iranian dissident community, who have grown frustrated with Trudeau.
Or maybe it was far simpler: Trudeau had a change of heart and decided this was the right thing to do. Time will tell, but a welcome surprise.