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Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves at the conclusion of a news conference in Ottawa, Canada, November 2015. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves at the conclusion of a news conference in Ottawa, Canada, November 2015. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

“Sunny ways, my friends. Sunny ways. This is what positive politics can do,” said Justin Trudeau, the new Canadian prime minister, in his victory speech in Montreal on October 19. The remarks were a direct nod to Sir Wilfrid Laurier, a former Canadian prime minister known for his pleasant manner and ability to forge compromises. Trudeau’s speech underscored how different he would be from his conservative predecessor, Stephen Harper, whom the Canadian historian Robert Bothwell recently called “the most cynical prime minister in Canadian history.”

After a 78-day campaign in which identity issues featured prominently, Trudeau’s first steps have been to emphasize diversity. His 31-member cabinet, which he unveiled as one that looks “like Canada,” is the most diverse the country has ever seen. Two indigenous Canadians were tapped to become minister of justice and attorney general; a Muslim woman of Afghan descent, Maryam Monsef, who came to Canada as a refugee in 1996, became minister of democratic institutions; four members of the Sikh community were appointed to various posts, including Harjit Sajjan, who became minister of national defense (Canada now has more Sikhs in its cabinet than India); and 50 percent of the cabinet is made up of women, another notable first.

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An NDP supporter reacts to results from Canada's federal election. (Courtesy Matthieu Belanger/ Reuters)

An NDP supporter reacts to results from Canada's federal election. (Courtesy Matthieu Belanger/ Reuters)

"Canada: the country you think of so little … that’s it, end of sentence,” quipped John Oliver, host of the satirical HBO program “Last Week Tonight,” on the eve of Canada’s 42nd federal election. As Oliver correctly observed, Canadian politics rarely generate much outside attention. Yet all that changed the next day, when the gregarious and charismatic Justin Trudeau led the Liberal Party to a resounding parliamentary win. The Guardian hailed the victory as a “big political shift to the center-left”; The Atlantic’s David Frum opined that Trudeau “repudiated” the “neoliberal Liberals of the 1990s”; and The Nation’s Washington correspondent John Nichols even called on American Democrats to “learn something” from the Liberal Party's example.

It isn’t hard to understand why this win was seen as a victory for the left. Many Canadians had grown weary of nine years of conservative rule under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The Conservatives’ muzzling of government scientists in a bid to temper criticism of Alberta’s Tar Sands, a more hawkish foreign policy, shying away from welcoming refugees, and harsher security and policing laws were but a few of the prominent examples of the country’s rightward turn.

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(Courtesy Chloe Cushman/National Post)

(Courtesy Chloe Cushman/National Post)

Rezan Mosa is a 22-year-old Vancouver-born Canadian. She is completing a double major in sociology and religious studies at Western University in London, Ontario, and works at the local campus bookstore. Rezan is also a Muslim and, about 18 months ago, she began wearing the face-covering niqab. “It was a decision I made myself and it was very empowering for me,” she says.

Although her friends supported her decision, her family was more reluctant. (No other women in her immediate or extended family wear the niqab.) Her father in particular worried about the impact it would have on her life—and how she would be treated in public. His fears have been borne out over the last month and a half. On about three or four occasions, passersby have told her to “Go back to your country” or that “This is Canada.” Rezan had heard these kinds of comments in the past—many Muslim women in Canada have—but she says the frequency has increased ever since the debate over the niqab took center stage in the upcoming federal election.

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Maghen Abraham, Beirut's oldest synagogue, undergoes renovation in Wadi Abu-Jamil district in downtown Beirut. (Courtesy Reuters)

Maghen Abraham, Beirut's oldest synagogue, undergoes renovation in Wadi Abu-Jamil district in downtown Beirut. (Courtesy Reuters)

Miriam Mizrahi Guindi, a Syrian Jew originally from Aleppo, set sail from Mexico City to Beirut in 1946. Already pregnant, she would soon give birth in her husband Elias’ hometown, the Lebanese capital. Miriam returned to the city on three occasions to deliver the youngest of her six children, spending five or so months there each time. Like many émigré Lebanese and Syrian Jews, Miriam and Elias maintained a strong attachment to the region despite having left their homeland. Both spoke French and Hebrew since their youth, but Arabic was their native and preferred tongue.

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