From the Editor: Notes from the election(s) front

By Michael Regenstreif, Editor

I wrote my last Ottawa Jewish Bulletin column three days before the October 21 federal election and noted opinion polls showed the Liberal and Conservative parties virtually tied with both parties in the range of taking 132 seats – far short of the 170 seats needed to form a majority government.

While the popular vote nationally gave the Conservatives a slight edge, the way the vote broke across the country gave the Liberals a much stronger minority government than expected with 157 seats. The Conservatives took only 121.

Here in Ottawa, the Liberals won seven of eight seats – with only MP Pierre Poilievre holding Carleton for the Conservatives.

While Jews make up about one per cent of the population nationally, the Canadian Jewish News reported there are 14 ridings – mostly in the greater Toronto and Montreal areas, but also one in Winnipeg – where Jews constitute between five and 37 per cent of the population. The Liberals won 13 of those ridings – with only MP Peter Kent holding Thornhill for the Conservatives.

Among the most interesting of the election races in those 14 ridings were in the Toronto riding of York Centre, where Jewish MP Michael Levitt was running for re-election, and the Montreal riding of Mount Royal, where Jewish MP Anthony Housefather was running for re-election.

In those ridings the Conservatives targeted many Jewish voters with a direct-mail pamphlet featuring a photo of leader Andrew Scheer and a headline reading “Jewish community in Canada?” in block letters. The pamphlet painted the Conservatives as very strong and the Liberals as very weak on issues such as Israel and antisemitism.

The pamphlet didn’t seem to have the effect the Conservatives hoped for. Both Levitt – the chair of the Canada-Israel Parliamentary Group – and Housefather were re-elected with significant increases in the proportions of their votes from the 2015 election.

The direct-mail pamphlet was also sent to some Jewish voters in several other ridings across the country. I live in Ottawa West–Nepean and received one. Several other people I know in Ottawa told me they also received the pamphlet. Anecdotally, everyone I talked to who received the pamphlet was unhappy about being directly targeted as a Jew.

In Quebec, the Bloc Québécois’ singular defence of the province’s Bill 21 – which bans certain public servants, including teachers, police officers, prosecutors and judges from wearing such religious symbols as the Muslim hijab, the Sikh turban and Jewish kippah – led to the separatist party’s resurgence under a banner of Quebec nationalism.

However, as popular as Bill 21 is said to be in Quebec, the Liberals – the only party whose leader said his or her government might join a court case against a law for which a provincial government invoked the notwithstanding clause to suspend provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – won more seats and a higher proportion of the popular vote than the Bloc.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud Party leader, has failed to form a governing coalition in Israel following the September 17 election there (the second inconclusive Israeli election in 2019) and the mandate to try and form a government has been passed to Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz.

It is unlikely that Gantz will be any more successful than Netanyahu in putting together a coalition that commands at least 61 of the Knesset’s 120 seats. It is probable, as I’ve suggested before, Likud and Blue and White will form a unity government alternating the premiership or there will be a third Israeli election.

And, in the United Kingdom, voters will go to the polls on December 12 with the leadership of both major parties in the hands of highly polarizing figures.

The Conservative Party is led by Boris Johnson, whose major issue is achieving Brexit, the so-called exit of the U.K. from the European Union (while Brexit was approved by 51.9 per cent of voters in a 2016 referendum, current polling suggests support has fallen to about 44 per cent).

And the Labour Party is led by Jeremy Corbyn, a once fringe figure whose anti-Zionism has frequently flirted with antisemitism and who has allowed antisemitism to fester in the British Labour Party.