Yesterday I took a drive with one of my sons through Forest Hill Village, one of two older and very prosperous areas in the City of Toronto near downtown, generally characterized as upper middle class. In fact, many of its denizens are lower upper class. We were delivering flowers lest our orthodox friends be faced with allowing the flowers to die if we brought them once Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year Holiday, started. The predominant Halachic interpretation of Talmudic Law forbids such action on Rosh Hashanah lest the flowers not be in full bloom and the individual putting the flowers in the water be guilty of participating in “planting” on a day on which work was prohibited.
Forest Hill was awash in blue signs for the Conservative candidate. Though I do not live in Forest Hill, Forest Hill is part of St. Paul’s riding where I live. In the May 2011 election, Carolyn Bennett won the riding handily with 39.92% of the vote when the Liberals across Canada won only 18.91% of the vote and were decimated. Marnie MacDougall, the executive assistant to Conservative MP Mark Adler who represents the heavily Jewish riding of Thornhill, is running for the Conservatives in a riding in which Conservatives won 32.42% of the vote in the last election whereas the Conservatives across the country received 39.62% of the vote. (The NDP, even when it became the official opposition and won 30.62% of the vote across Canada, won only 22.63% of the vote in St. Paul’s.) Even though the NDP candidate this time is Noah Richler with a well-recognized name, the NDP is considered to have very little chance of winning in this riding, especially in an election where many left of centre voters are voting strategically and will vote for the party best able to oust Stephen Harper.
Though the riding has traditionally been Liberal, in the May 1979 election Ron Atkey defeated John Roberts for the Liberals and became the Conservative representative for St. Paul’s riding with 44.1% of the vote compared to 41.3% for the Conservatives. In the February 1980 elections, Roberts retook the riding with 45.3% compared to Atkey’s 39.5%. However, in the almost 10 months when the Conservatives were in power and when Ron was the representative, he was the Immigration Minister who led the charge to admit 50,000 Indochinese refugees into Canada by the end of 1980. (The Liberals, when they won subsequently, increased the intake of refugees to 60,000; in 1979, the Tories and the Liberals competed for which party was the best humanitarian.)
In the 2015 election, once again the Tories are in a position to win the riding even though the Tories are running at only 30% in support across the nation. The reasons are simple. St. Paul’s is a riding with a significant portion of Jews; however, that proportion is only about 14%. The majority of Jews during Harper’s rule have increasingly shifted to the Tories in line with their income, but primarily because of Harper’s unequivocal support for Israel and, more particularly, for the Netanyahu government. Even more Jews seem to have shifted to the Tories when voter shifts elsewhere have gone in the opposite direction across the country. The second major reason is that the NDP, which is the leading party in national polls to this date, is running a credible candidate with a name with national recognition who is not a token, but is running to win on a hoped for NDP tide. With little experience, we do not know how many of the voters in this riding will vote strategically. The shrinking of the riding boundary on its eastern border is not expected to effect the distribution of the vote significantly.
The litmus test for most Jews in casting their ballots, based on a small sample, seems to be Israel. Given their past experience, even though most Jews are sympathetic to refugees generally, the Jewish community has been very slow off the mark in its support for the Syrian refugees. Generally they are following the Tory message line. There is a security threat from these refugees, even though Canadian policy is directed at taking threatened minorities from the area, a code for large numbers of Christians. Whereas the Liberal Party and many leading figures are calling for the admission of tens of thousands of government-assisted Syrian refugees by the end of 2016 – Rick Hillier, a former head of the armed services, has called for the admission of 25,000 through a military airlift by the end of this year), the Tories, in contrast, are pledged to take in only 20,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees over four years.
When the numbers are broken down between Iraqis and Syrians, when government assisted refugees are disaggregated from the total Canada will be assisting, the number for 2016 is only 2,500 for 2016. Thus, even if Canada recalibrates and accelerates its intake, a Tory government is unlikely to bring in 5,000 Syrian government-assisted refugees next year.
Yet Jews continue to shift their support to the Conservatives. This is in spite of the fact that even Isaac Herzog, the leader of the opposition in Israel, has called on the Israeli government to do much more for the Syrian refugees. This is in spite of the fact that the Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has admitted an estimated 2,000 Syrians into hospitals in Israel, though they must return when they have recuperated. Israel has also set up a field hospital in the Golan Heights that treats many more Syrian refugees. Nevertheless, Netanyahu will not permit some Syrian refugees to settle even in the West Bank as called for by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and also in spite of the fact that many Syrian refugees are Druze, part of the 500,000 Druzim and their descendents made into internally displaced people by Israel’s capture of the Golan Heights in 1967.
With all these qualifications, Israel is still doing more than the current Canadian government. Harper promised to raise humanitarian aid to Syrian refugee camps to up to $100 million dollars to match charitable funds raised in Canada to improve the situation in the camps just when refugees are leaving the camps in droves heading for Europe and at the same time as the Canadian government promises to help Syrian minorities.
Harper insists that the focus should be, probably in order of priority, on:
- fighting ISIS which now controls almost 50% of Syrian refugee territory
- continue training Western-supported rebels against the Assad regime, – a platform on which the Liberals agree – even though they only control 5% of the territory, and many of them, though no nearly as extremist as ISIS, are still facing accusations of participating in the religious cleansing of Christians who traditionally were protected by Assad
- emphasize giving humanitarian aid to the refugees in camps
- select for intake into Canada persecuted minorities who have not been registered by UNHCR, and, therefore, not processed as refugees, who have taken refugee in urban slums throughout the Middle East
Harper has not provided the significant increase in Canadian visa officers necessary to put even this extremely modest support for the resettlement of Syrian refugees in practice. Even the right-wing anti-Muslim Dutch parliamentarian, Geert Wilders, has acceded to the call to admit more Syrian refugees into Europe on the proviso that they be required to sign an anti-Sharia declaration in which the pledge to give priority to Dutch law over Sharia law and that they both repudiate all passages in the Koran that mandate spreading the religion by the sword and for treating other religions as inferior.
Jews have shifted their support to Harper because he has been the strongest supporter of the Netanyahu regime internationally, even though that support is rhetorical only and has not been and will not be translatable into any deliverables on the world stage. Canadian influence on the rest of the world has shrunk considerably even as we worked mainly on the margins rather than on central issues such as the economy and defence. For we have joined the worst laggards and surrendered our leadership in the world in refugee policy and can no longer play the leadership role in gaveling talks on Palestinian refugees as we once did.
However, the fact that Canadian influence has been reduced to irrelevance on both the Israeli and the refugee issues, the fact is that Harper should be voted out of power on a myriad of issues, including, as samples, the following:
- the decimation of the public service and the reduction of civil servants to servants of the Prime Minister and his policies rather than of the Canadian people with an independent capacity to influence public policy and ensure that any policy decisions made can be carried out with competence
- the decimation of independent scientific research by scientists in the employ of the Canadian government
- the elimination of Canada as the paradigm for training civil servants in the rest of the world on the compilation of relevant and important statistical data so that Statistics Canada has been reduced to a shadow of its former self
- the reduction of support for aboriginal education of its youth from 78% of what the rest of the students in Canada receive to less than 72%, even though Stephen Harper offered a formal apology to our first nations for Canadian treatment of aboriginal peoples in the past
- the failure of the Conservative government to balance its budget even once even when the economy was booming in the last few years
- allowing Canada to slip into recession this year
- poor support for veterans
- the mess continued of the Liberal precedent of an inability to properly procure needed equipment for Canadian military forces
- the introduction of Bill C-51 that may have included some measures to increase the security measures to protect Canadians, but in many areas unnecessarily included many provisions that threaten to infringe on Canadian rights and freedoms
- the disrespect for the Supreme Court of Canada
- the disrespect for Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and losing court case after court case as the government introduced policy after policy in blatant disregard of the provisions of the charter
- the diminution of Canadian democracy as the Prime Minister aggregated more and more powers to the office of the Prime Minister and would introduce omnibus bills in parliament that significantly reduced the time available to explore and understand complex issues and ensure these issues received adequate consideration by Parliamentarians.
The list could go on and on. Yet Jews, who traditionally would be critical of Harper and may still be for many of the government’s failures, increasingly vote for Harper based on Harper’s rhetorical support for Israel. Even though that support is just for the Netanyahu government and not Israel per se, even though that support should be balanced against a host of other failures, more and more Canadian Jews seem to be shifting their support for Harper against trends the other way in Canada. This support will cost Israel and the Canadian Jewish community greatly if most Jews are perceived as virtually automatons who can be led like lemmings with just one tune on the flute of a Pied Piper.
It is sad.