Canadian Jews Change Course

Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party massive victory in the recent Canadian elections and the virtual disappearance of the Liberal Party, which has dominated Canadian politics for seventy years, was accompanied by sea change in Canadian Jewish voting patterns. That change already began between 2006 and 2008. In the handful of ridings in the country in which Jews are a substantial minority, the shift from the Liberal Party to the Conservative in those years was six to twelve times that of the national average.

The most recent election witnessed the first Jew ever elected to Parliament as a Conservative MP. Liberal MP Ken Dryden, a Canadian icon as goalie of the Stanley Cup winning Montreal Canadians (and a strong supporter of Israel) went down to defeat in a riding with a significant Jewish minority. Even Irwin Cotler, a former attorney general and one of Israel’s most articulate defenders in the international arena, barely squeezed back into office. He was first elected in 1999 with 91% of the vote. An internationally renowned human rights attorney, Cotler found himself accused of being soft on Israel because he attended the first Durban Conference, where he had gone to combat – unsuccessfully — the hijacking of the Conference by anti-Semites and anti-Israel forces.

The primary factor behind the shift in Jews’ traditional political loyalties is a sense of profound hakaros hatov [gratitude] to Prime Minister Harper, who has emerged since 2006 as Israel’s most outspoken and forceful defender among major national leaders. I asked Irwin Cotler why Canadian Jews were so much more likely to make Israel a primary consideration in casting their votes. He pointed to a number of factors.

Canadian Jewry is still primarily made up of first or second generation immigrants who have a strong ethnic identity and for whom memories of the Holocaust remain intense. The fact that the majority of Jews in Montreal are affiliated with Orthodox congregations also preserves a strong ethnic identity. The American model is one of a melting pot, i.e., the creation of a common national identity out of multiple identities, whereas the Canadian model is of a mosaic of different identities — much more multicultural. As a consequence, Canadian Jews feel more comfortable identifying as Jews and are encouraged to do so. Seventy-four per cent of Canadian Jews have visited Israel, twice the rate of American Jews.

Meanwhile, President Obama seems determined to test whether anything a Democratic president does could convince American Jews to emulate their Canadian brethren.

This article first appeared in Mishpacha, July 22.

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5 Responses

  1. Samuel Trepper says:

    Now we await the equivalent shift of secular American Jews giving their votes to the Republican Party, after many decades of Democrat Party bondage.

  2. DF says:

    I’m not so sure it’s wise to ask Irving Cotler for a reason why Jews are now voting Tory, even if the question is politely framed so as to make the issue about Israel. In fact, I’m not convinced Israel has anything to do with the Jewish voting trend. My parents live in Ken Dryden’s riding, and I was there in the run-up to the election. The fact is, similar to the way a lot of Liberal Jews here have awoken to realize they got a bad bargain with Obama, Canadian Jews have begun to see the economic problems the Liberal party invariably brings. Under Harper’s Conservative party, that country has escaped a lot of the turmoil the US has not. Cotler, a dyed in the wool liberal, would naturally refuse to acknowledge this truth, and would thus try to explain away the Jewish voting pattern by some reference to Israel. In actual fact, it likely has nothing to do with Israel, and everything to do with the economy.

  3. cohen y says:

    DF is oversimplifying(I had 6 reasons for the May 2 results)but he is nevertheless more correct.

  4. Michael says:

    I live in Toronto. I would say that it’s both factors but 2/3 of it is due to hakarat hatov for the wonderful support of Israel by Harper. The Jewish community is a small minority of overall voters, so Harper is clearly taking this position as a matter of principle.

  5. DF says:

    I truly doubt Harper’s support for Israel, however wonderful, has anything to do with his party’s success. Canada is a parliamentary system, in which one votes for a member of parliment; they do not directly elect their prime minister. Thus, other than in his own riding the electorate was not actually voting for Mr. Harper, in which case a sense of gratitude could theoretically arise. Moreover, as a dual citizen who has lived many years in both countries, I can say confidently Canadian Jews are not THAT much different than their American brethren. George W. Bush was very much a friend of Israel, but yet the reliably Jewish liberal vote did not change their voting patterns out of any hakaras hatov. Canadians would be no different.

    Finally, it is instructive to recall Dr. Johnson’s observation: “Gratitude is a fruit of great cultivation. You do not find it among gross people.” This was demonstrated vividly by his own people after World War II, when, mere weeks after saving the country, Winston Churchill was booted out of office by the public. For these reasons it is unlikely the Jewish shift to the Tories has nothing to do with hakaras hatov, and everything to do with a belated recognition that the conservatives make more sense economically.

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