It’s no secret that Jewish voters have apparently shifted from being largely supportive of the Liberal party to heartily supporting the Conservatives in what seems like majority numbers, due largely to the party’s full-throated support for Israel under Prime Minister Stephen Harper (and to a much lesser degree its commitment to security for religious institutions).
An Ipsos Reid exit poll in 2011 found that 52 per cent of Jews voted Conservative (versus 24 per cent Liberal and 16 per cent NDP), and in a number of ridings with concentrations of Jewish voters, recent drops in Liberal support have been accompanied by increases in the Conservative vote.
Mount Royal: With the retirement of former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler, the Tories are gunning for a win here, after chipping away at Cotler’s margin of victory in the last few elections. The one-third-Jewish riding has been Liberal since 1940 and was once represented by former prime minister Pierre Trudeau. Two strong Jewish candidates, Côte-Saint-Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather and former English rights activist and provincial Equality Party leader Robert Libman, both won their nominations in hard-fought fights and have been ready to do battle for months.
Thornhill: This canary-in-the-coalmine riding has the highest proportion of Jews in the country. Tory MP Peter Kent first won here in 2008 by beating Liberal incumbent Susan Kadis. In 2011, he trounced Jewish community leader and human rights advocate Karen Mock. As of this writing, the Liberals don’t have a candidate in Thornhill.
York Centre: In a riding that had been represented for much of its 60-year history by Liberal cabinet heavyweights, including former solicitor general Robert Kaplan and hockey legend Ken Dryden, Mark Adler finally won it in 2011 for the Conservatives. Adler’s opponent is Michael Levitt, a member of the Benjamin family and an executive in its iconic funeral home business. An Adler win would mean either that Harper still has coattails in the Jewish community, or, if the Tories lose, that Jews have fallen out of step with the rest of the country.
Eglinton-Lawrence: Tory Joe Oliver beat longtime Liberal MP and cabinet minister Joe Volpe in 2011 in a riding that had been Liberal since its creation in 1979. Watch for Liberal Marco Mendicino to make a strong bid to end Oliver’s run as Canada’s first Jewish finance minister. That’s because even if Oliver captures his district’s Jewish vote, Mendicino – who held off Eve Adams to win his party’s nod – can likely count on the support of the riding’s sizable Italian population, though an early Forum poll gives Oliver a seven-point lead.
Colouring these races is the very real prospect the Harper government is nearing the end of its lifespan, which raises some strategic questions for Canadian Jews.
• Have Jews become one-issue voters? While it’s understandable that the alarming rise in anti-Semitism worldwide, coupled with the growing threats to Israel and the rise of Islamist forces across the globe, would make Harper’s support for Israel and resolute stands on security attractive, should a strong and secure Jewish community vote solely on that basis?
• What’s the difference? With all three leading parties strongly declaring their support for the Jewish state – and both Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair having brought the anti-Israel elements of their parties to heel – it’s worth asking if there’s really that much difference between them on Israel?
• Is it politically wise to get cozy with the governing Tories? Jewish advocacy groups have previously voiced strong support for Harper. But is it a good idea for Jews to allow ourselves to become divided for partisan gain, especially since no party has a platform or outlook that precisely matches Jewish values, whatever exactly those are?
We’ll find out on Oct. 19.
This wRant first appeared as a CAMPAIGN NOTEBOOK column in the Aug. 13 Canadian Jewish News.