Opposition members are accusing the Conservative government of disregarding the Aga Khan’s message of pluralism by leaving them out of an event featuring the spiritual leader in Toronto.
The hereditary leader of the world’s Ismaili Muslims is expected to address a crowd of community members, chief executives and Canadian government officials at Toronto’s Massey Hall on Friday afternoon. But while Prime Minister Stephen Harper and at least two Conservative ministers will attend the event, opposition members say they were denied the opportunity to participate.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said both he and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau met with the Aga Khan on Parliament Hill Thursday, but neither party’s members were invited to the Massey Hall event. “The Aga Khan is a model for working together and reaching out to other people, so it’s a shame that for that event in Toronto tomorrow, no one else seems to have been invited,” Mr. Mulcair said.
Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland, who represents the riding where the event is being held, said she found the government’s approach to the event “insulting,” particularly in the context of this week’s government delegation to Ukraine, which also did not include any opposition members.
“This is a highly partisan government that behaves that way,” Liberal foreign affairs critic Marc Garneau told reporters on Thursday.
A spokesman from the Prime Minister’s Office said invitations for the Massey Hall event were extended to chief executives, charitable sector leaders and thousands of people from the community. “Those trying to cheapen the event by flinging baseless partisan accusations should be ashamed of themselves,” Jason MacDonald wrote in an e-mail. “We won’t dignify these partisan attacks with a response.”
Earlier on Thursday, Mr. Harper signed a protocol of understanding with the Aga Khan aimed at strengthening the government’s relationship with the spiritual leader. The Aga Khan has a long history with Canada and was granted honorary citizenship in 2009.
He has also founded schools and religious centres around the world and recently created the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa.
Speaking before a joint session of Parliament on Thursday morning, the Aga Khan praised Canada’s commitment to pluralism and education, calling the country a global leader. At the same time, he said instability in the world has left some questioning the ability of governments to address real concerns about quality of life, opening a growing role for civil society.
Civil society can provide hope and help transform lives, the Aga Khan said, adding, “It means opening the way for diversity, it means welcoming plurality.”
Few people who are not heads of state have been invited to address a joint session of Parliament. In the past, Mr. Harper has referred to a “warm and lasting friendship” with the Aga Khan and called him a champion of international development and tolerance.
The Aga Khan Development Network has received funding from the Canadian government for international development projects, including those focused on maternal and child health. Canada made the issue a key focus of its development efforts when it announced the Muskoka Initiative in 2010.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday morning, Mr. Harper praised the Aga Khan’s approach to pluralism, adding, “I value your counsel and your friendship.”