Representatives of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa and its advocacy partner, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), has held roundtable meetings with Ottawa-area candidates running in the June 7 Ontario election representing the Liberal Party of Ontario, the New Democratic Party of Ontario (NDP), and the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario (PC) – the three parties represented in the outgoing Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
Each of the parties were asked to respond to the same five questions of concern to the Jewish community which were published in the CIJA 2018 Ontario Election Issues Guide and which were provided in advance to each of the parties.
- Combating anti-Semitism: “Police and Statistics Canada confirm anti-Semitism is rising. Will you support provincial authorities adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism to strengthen efforts to identify and combat hatred of Jews?
- Supporting the most vulnerable: Jewish social service agencies deliver countless programs to help Ontario’s most vulnerable. Will you work to maintain support for Jewish social service agencies and invest in affordable housing for people with disabilities?
- Improving community security: The Jewish community and other at-risk minorities spend millions every year protecting our schools, community centres, and places of worship from hate crimes. Will you support provincial funding to help offset some of these costs?
- Expanding Ontario-Israel ties: Strengthening trade ties with Israel can build jobs and attract investment to Ontario. Will you support the opening of a permanent Ontario trade office in Israel?
- Preventing genetic discrimination: While a federal bill banning genetic discrimination has passed, it is currently before the courts and its long-term status is uncertain. Will you support a provincial bill banning genetic discrimination?
Other questions were also asked at the end of the meetings.
All Ottawa-area candidates from the three parties were invited to attend and participate in the meetings. The dates and times of the meetings were chosen to accommodate the parties’ requests.
The Liberal candidates were first to meet with Federation on May 16. They were followed by NDP candidates on May 22 and a PC candidate on May 31. The meetings took place in the board room at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre (SJCC) and were chaired by Michael Polowin, vice-chair of Federation and president of the Ottawa Jewish Community School board.
Liberal Party meeting
Four Liberal candidates – all incumbent MPPs running for re-election – attended: Bob Chiarelli (Ottawa West-Nepean), Natalie Des Rosiers (Ottawa-Vanier), John Fraser (Ottawa South) and Yasir Naqvi (Ottawa Centre).
In response to the question on combatting anti-Semitism and whether the province should adopt the IHRA definition, Chiarelli pointed out that the Liberal government released an anti-racism strategic plan in 2017 and said he welcomed specific recommendations from the community – including draft legislation and draft regulations – on how the province can and should combat hatred. Chiarelli added that private members’ bills are often an effective way to pass such legislation.
“I think we are 100 per cent sympathetic to the challenges that you have,” said Chiarelli about Jewish community concerns about anti-Semitism.
Fraser said he believed a Liberal government would be willing to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.
On the question of support for the most vulnerable, Des Rosiers said that affordable housing was a particular concern of hers and pointed to Jewish Family Services (JFS) outreach efforts to homeless people that have beneficially impacted her riding.
Calling JFS “an important resource,” Des Rosiers pledged to continue supporting the agency.
Chiarelli called attention to the work he’s done with Tamir in achieving funding for the integrated living centre for developmentally challenged Jewish adults that has been announced for the Jewish Community Campus – as well as to other efforts the government has made to support vulnerable populations in Ontario.
Fraser said that providing long-term care beds in facilities such as Hillel Lodge that are community-based and culturally-based is a priority. He also promised increased support for the developmentally disabled and lauded Jewish Family Services for its support for the Somali community in Ottawa South.
On the question of improving community security, Naqvi lamented the need for at-risk communities – including the Jewish community – to spend valuable resources on security. Naqvi acknowledged that the province does not currently have a program in place to help offset security costs but said it was something he and some of his colleagues have advocated for and would continue to do so.
Chiarelli also said the government “could do better” in providing “pre-emptory funding” for security needs.
When asked about expanding Ontario’s ties with Israel and whether Ontario should open a permanent trade office in Israel, Chiarelli said a Liberal government would support such an initiative.
On the issue of preventing genetic discrimination, Des Rosiers pointed out that she had introduced amendments to the Human Rights Code to prevent genetic discrimination and that while they had not passed before the legislature was dissolved in advance of the election she pledged to reintroduce them if she is re-elected.
Naqvi added that he has already been involved in meeting with stakeholders – including representatives of the Jewish community in Toronto and the insurance industry – on planning how to implement measures to prevent genetic discrimination.
Among the other questions that came up was on relations between local MPPs with the Jewish community. Both Naqvi and Chiarelli pointed out that the local members have always been eager to collaborate with the community on certain issues and Chiarelli suggested formalizing regular meetings between the community and area MPPs four times per year.
Another question that came up was public funding for Jewish and other non-Catholic faith-based schools. It was pointed out that certain other provinces – including Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia – have developed formulas to provide some funding for faith-based schools and that Ontario remains the only province to fund the Catholic system to the total exclusion of all other faiths.
Although the candidates were unwilling to pledge support for any change to the status quo, they did seem amenable to future discussions.
New Democratic Party meeting
Two NDP candidates attended: Eleanor Fast (Ottawa South) and Chandra Pasma (Ottawa West-Nepean).
On the question of combatting anti-Semitism and whether the province should adopt the IHRA definition, Pasma said the recent surge in anti-Semitism in the world was disturbing and frightening and that fighting anti-Semitism would be a priority for an NDP government. She called for an expanded anti-hate curriculum in schools – including teaching about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. She also called for expanded community education – including training for police officers to deal with hate crimes.
Fast said an NDP government will create a $20 million anti-racism fund to combat hatred in the province.
During the discussion, meeting chair Polowin pointed out that anti-Semitic incidents have taken place on university campuses and other places in the guise of the anti-Israel BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement and that there are some members of the NDP who have supported this movement.
Joel Harden, the NDP candidate in Ottawa South, where the SJCC is located, and who did not attend the meeting, for example, is a strong and active proponent of the BDS movement.
In an interview with Socialist.ca published on September 2, 2017, after he became NDP candidate in Ottawa Centre, Harden reiterated his support for BDS and criticized his own party for not supporting the anti-Israel movement:
“I was very honest with them and they were clear with me when they vetted my nomination papers. I said, ‘If I’m asked a question about what I think about BDS for example, I’m not going to pretend that that’s somebody I’m not. I’m going to say, on a personal level I support BDS’ … That’s my own personal belief, and I’ll say it to anyone who asks. But is the provincial party there? No, they’re not there. But should people who read Socialist Worker see me as somebody they can know as an ally, who won’t change? Yeah. I’m going to be the same person,” said Harden.
Whether or not the NDP would support Ontario adopting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism was not specifically addressed by the candidates.
On the question of support for the most vulnerable, Fast said an NDP government would invest $67 million annually for social service agencies, “including Jewish agencies … to support people in the community.”
Fast also said the NDP regards housing to be a human right “and we will be creating 65,000 affordable housing units over the next 10 years as well as creating 30,000 new supportive living units over 10 years – including 12,000 in our first mandate.”
Pasma added that financial support for people with disabilities would be increased by an NDP government and there would be increased investment in homecare services – including respite care – and for special education in schools.
When asked whether special education funding for schools would apply to non-Catholic faith-based schools, Pasma said the commitment was being made for the public school system but said she would be willing to take the community’s concern back to government.
On the question of improving community security, Pasma said there are “a number of security-related commitments in our platform because we recognize that everybody should feel safe.” Pasma said the NDP will increase funding for police services as well as increase resources for community policing so that relationships between police forces and the communities which they serve will be enhanced – including anti-racism and anti-Semitism training.
Asked specifically if they would support funding for security guards for faith-based communities, both Pasma and Fast indicated they would personally support that and that they would raise the issue with the party.
When asked whether the NDP would support expanding Ontario’s ties with Israel by establishing a permanent trade office in Israel, Pasma said the party does “not currently have any foreign policy commitments in our platform,” while Fast said she was “personally enthusiastic about the importance of bilateral relationships and the importance of having people in-country” and said she would advocate for an Ontario trade office in Israel.
On the issue of preventing genetic discrimination, Pasma noted that she had worked on the federal bill with NDP MPs and supports a legislative approach to the problem.
“I don’t think insurance companies, or anyone else, should have the ability to discriminate on the basis of genetics,” Pasma said. “But having said that, I think it’s premature to commit to provincial legislation while we don’t know what’s happening with the federal bill,” which is now before the courts.
Other questions that came up in the meeting included one on public funding for Jewish and other non-Catholic faith-based schools.
While Fast said she was unwilling to make any commitments on the issue of funding for faith-based schools without further guidance from party “headquarters,” Pasma noted that the NDP platform does not currently envision touching the school board system in Ontario.
“The platform does not make any commitments on expanding funding to [non-Catholic] faith-based schools,” she said.
Another question that came up pertained to the NDP position on the anti-Israel BDS movement. The question came up because the NDP candidate in Ottawa Centre has been on the record during the campaign as a strong advocate for BDS.
It was clarified that the federal NDP had recently rejected support for the BDS movement and that BDS is not part of the provincial platform.
Asked how they personally feel about BDS, Fast said she voted against the BDS proposals at the federal NDP convention while Pasma said that she voted against BDS proposals at her riding association in advance of the convention.
Progressive Conservative Party meeting
Only one PC candidate, Colleen McCleery (Ottawa Centre), attended the meeting. She was accompanied at the table by her campaign manager, Rob Dekker, who had been the PC candidate in Ottawa Centre in the 2011 and 2014 elections.
On the question of combatting anti-Semitism and whether the province should adopt the IHRA definition, McCleery said she would support adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.
“It’s not a hard question to answer,” she said, “I feel anyone who has been persecuted in any way should be supported.”
During the discussion on anti-Semitism, it was pointed out that PC candidate Andrew Lawton (London West) had suggested in 2016 that whether the Holocaust “actually happened” should be a matter for debate. Dekker said he found Lawton’s comment “unacceptable” and would not vote for his party’s candidate if he lived in that riding.
On the question of support for the most vulnerable, McCleery said she “would support anything that would enhance community and the funding to do that.”
On affordable housing, McCleery said she supports “anything the province has already committed to.”
McCleery said that while the party had not yet released a platform position on affordable housing, PC leader Doug Ford is “very committed to the affordable housing, mental health and addictions sphere – and so in terms of disabilities I would see that fall the same way.”
Asked about the issue of improving community security and specifically about financial support for hiring security guards for community facilities, McCleery said she would support such funding.
McCleery also said she would support expanding Ontario’s ties with Israel by establishing a permanent trade office in Israel.
“Doug Ford wants economic wealth, not economic redistribution, so I think [it’s beneficial] to have a strong trade relationship with partners,” she said.
On the issue of preventing genetic discrimination, McCleery said she would support provincial legislation to ban genetic discrimination should the federal bill falter in the courts.
After responding positively to all five of the questions that had been submitted to all of the candidates from each of the parties, McCleery was asked if her answers were personal opinions or whether they reflected the positions of the PC Party. McCleery said she was voicing her personal opinions on these issues.
As at the meetings with Liberal and NDP candidates, McCleery was also asked about extending public funding for Jewish and other non-Catholic faith-based schools.
McCleery admitted that she had not considered the issue but said she would look at the issue of faith-based schools “as something worth funding in some way from the government.” However, McCleery added that she didn’t know how that might work or what the party’s position would be.
“Let’s be clear,” Dekker interjected, “at the present time the party has no plans to merge the school boards and, in my view, funding for your schools, or Muslim schools, [would] only come [if] the public and Catholic school boards are merged.”