Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Canada’s Jews turn Conservative: A Prelude for the 2012 US Election?


Canada’s snap election for a new ruling government in Ottawa looms on May 2nd.

Canada’s Jewish population of approximately 380,000 constitutes less than 1% of our neighbor to the north’s population, yet there are several strategic ridings (election districts) in locations like Montreal’s Westmount and Toronto’s North York ridings that could have an important bearing on the likely re-election of Conservative party leader, PM Stephen Harper – a strong supporter of Israel. Harper is pitted against Michael Ignatieff, the Liberal party leader, who has spent much of his career at academic settings at Cambridge University in the U.K. and in the US at Harvard University with views that are not in synch with the support of many Canadian Jews for Israel. An Israel surrounded by tottering autocratic Arab regimes dissolving into Salafist Jihadism in the so-called Arab Awakening. Several of these ridings with significant Jewish voters in metro Toronto could have a significant bearing on the outcome of the May 2nd, snap election. The Toronto Globe and Mail wrote about this important shift in Canadian Jewish voting patterns in a recent article, “By The Numbers: The Jewish Vote” .

There are no polling numbers on how Jews – or any other religious or ethnic group - vote in Canada.

“In the U.S., they profile people that way, but it’s not a common practice in Canada to ask people their race or religion,” said pollster Nik Nanos.

The only hard statistics are these: In four out of the five ridings where Jewish voters make up a sizeable minority of the electorate, the Liberal vote declined significantly between the 2006 and 2008 elections –- at more than double the rate in the rest of the country.

The Tory vote in those ridings shot up anywhere from six to twelve times the national average -- enough for Thornhill to go Conservative.


% Jewish voters

Change in share of popular vote: Liberals

Change in share of popular vote: Conservatives


36.6 %



Mont Royal




York Centre








St. Paul's




Canada-wide change in popular vote

Liberals: -4%

Conservatives: +1.3%

The Liberals in Canada are scrambling to try and maintain the ‘traditional’ Jewish attachment, only to find out that Canada’s Jews have left the fold bringing prominent community leaders and funding into the Conservative Party camp. Even former Liberal cabinet Attorney General and Justice Minister from the last Liberal government in Ottawa’s Parliament, noted Antisemitism expert, Prof. Irwin Cotler, finds his hold on his significant Jewish Westmount riding slipping. Note his comment in a Toronto Globe and Mail article, “Once a sure Thing, Liberals are Now Fighting for Jewish Vote”:

The one thing Irwin Cotler never expected in his political career was to be forced to prove his commitment to Jewish causes and the state of Israel.

“It causes me deep, personal anguish,” said the long-time human rights activist and former Liberal justice minister who is running for the sixth time in Pierre Trudeau’s former riding of Mont Royal in Quebec. “The Conservatives utterly misrepresent my record and put me in the docket of the accused on the issues where I have been at the forefront.”

Note what a former Liberal party Jewish official under the legendary ‘plucky’ Pierre Trudeau implied was the reason for this shift in Canadian Jewish voting patterns:

Prominent Liberals don’t disagree. “The Liberals lost their primacy with the Jewish community,” said former senator Jack Austin from British Columbia, who was the country’s first Jewish chief of staff under Mr. Trudeau. “And now they’re contestants with the Conservatives.”

Political, community and religious leaders caution that Jews don’t vote as a block any more than any other groups do – and for many Jewish Canadians, important domestic issues trump Middle East politics. Yet Israel plainly weighs heavily. According to the Canadian Jewish Federation, 74 per cent of Jews in Toronto and Montreal have visited Israel – compared to 35 per cent of American Jews.

This is in sharp contrast to American Jews who are largely liberal supporters of President Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012. Feckless liberal Jews in California didn’t blink an eye paying more than $34,000 a plate to attend a campaign fundraiser event at which Obama spoke this past week. This despite, the Obama Administration’s indifferent support for the special relationship with the Jewish State of Israel and its pronounced distancing from the Netanyahu government in Jerusalem given the latter’s upcoming speech before a joint session of Congress in May. That is a reflection of the Obama White House’s muddle over Middle East peace prospects amid rising Salafism in the so-called ‘Arab awakening’ supported by annihilationist Mahdist Iran. At least in Canada, the Conservative Party under the leadership of PM Harper has demonstrated a clear message of support for Israel and a warning about the threat of a nuclear armed Iran to regional and world order.

So why are Canadian Jews going the other way from their American coreligionists to support the Conservative party lead by PM Stephen Harper? It has a lot to do with relatively greater support for Zionism among Canada’s Jews than among their American cousins. In a personal way, it is reflected in the decision of a friend and colleague, Ted Belman, editor of the blog Israpundit, who gave me entre to begin my career in 2005, with an initial blast at New York Times columnist Tom Friedman - an exemplar of confused American liberal Jewish thinking on Israel and the Middle East. Belman chose in his retirement to make aliyah to Israel to live and work out of Jerusalem. That was reflective of Belman’s and many Canadian Jews' Zionism.

So, we American Zionists applaud Canadian coreligionists whose vote could spell the difference in returning Conservative PM Stephen Harper to lead the next Ottawa parliament and ruling Canadian government. Will their example impact on predominately liberal American Jews in the 2012 election? Stay tuned for developments in both Canada and here in the US.

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