How the Jewish vote will shape Canada’s 43rd Parliament

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and his wife, Sophie, wave to supporters following the federal election, in Montreal on Oct. 22. (Adam Scotti/Liberal Party of Canada)

The federal election yielded at least one new Jewish member of Parliament and the defeat of two others. Every riding but one where Jews live in large numbers went Liberal.

As The CJN previously reported, there are 14 federal ridings where Jews account for at least five per cent of the populace, compared to being about one per cent of Canada’s population as a whole: Thornhill (37 per cent Jewish); Mount Royal (30.7 per cent); Eglinton–Lawrence (22 per cent); York Centre (19 per cent); Toronto–St. Paul’s (14.7 per cent); Outremont (11 per cent); Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Westmount (10.6 per cent); Don Valley West (8.8 per cent); Pierrefonds–Dollard (8.5 per cent); Winnipeg South Centre (7.6 per cent); Saint-Laurent (7.4 per cent); University–Rosedale (7 per cent); Willowdale (6.6 per cent); and Richmond Hill (5.2 per cent).

Peter Kent
Peter Kent

Of those districts, only the suburban Toronto riding of Thornhill was won by the Conservatives, with incumbent Peter Kent easily defeating Liberal Gary Gladstone by 10,000 votes. Kent’s win was nearly as decisive as in 2015, when he thrashed his Liberal rival by more than 13,000 votes.

Richmond Hill, which is located north of Toronto, was the closest race: incumbent Liberal Majid Jowhari, who was first elected in 2015, defeated Conservative rival Costas Menegakis, who held the seat from 2011 to 2015, by a razor-thin 112 votes. Jowhari’s 0.2 per cent margin of victory made it the closest race in the country.

Two Jewish MPs were defeated in the election: Liberal David Graham, who won the Quebec riding of Laurentides–Labelle in 2015, was soundly beaten by Bloc Québécois candidate Marie-Hélène Gaudreau by 9,000 votes; and Liberal Dan Ruimy, who was elected in the British Columbia riding of Pitt Meadows–Maple Ridge in 2015, lost to Conservative Marc Dalton by 4,000 votes.

The Jewish MPs who kept their jobs were Michael Levitt in York Centre, Anthony Housefather in Mount Royal, Karina Gould in Burlington, Ont., who’s Jewish on her father’s side, Jim Carr in Winnipeg South Centre, Julie Dabrusin in Toronto–Danforth and Rachel Bendayan in Outremont.

Newcomer Marty Morantz of Winnipeg will be the sole Jewish MP on the Conservative benches.

Unsurprisingly, Housefather coasted to victory in Mount Royal, the Quebec riding with the highest proportion of Jewish voters. He garnered 24,137 votes, or 56.3 per cent, well ahead of Conservative David Tordjman, who garnered 10,723 votes, or 25 per cent.

Anthony Housefather

Tordjman, a Côte-St-Luc, Que., city councillor, appears to have received most of his support from voters in that that city and neighbouring Hampstead. The Conservatives made a strong bid for the Jewish vote by sending out a flyer on Israel and Jewish issues. Headlined, “Who is the real friend of Israel and the Jewish community in Canada?” it consisted of a checklist of what the Tories had purportedly done, or would do, beside one that enumerated the alleged failings of the Liberals.

Over the last four years, Housefather has been highly visible in Mount Royal and outspoken on Israel and issues of Jewish concern. He was endorsed by Côte-St-Luc Mayor Mitchell Brownstein and much of the city council.

Bendayan was also handily re-elected in the Montreal-area riding of Outremont, which has a significant Jewish population, notably large Hasidic and other haredi communities. A lawyer and party activist since her student days, she received 18,419 votes, or 47 per cent, well ahead of her nearest rival, Andrea Clarke of the NDP, who garnered 7,808 votes, in a riding that also gave the Green party a decent third-place showing.

Rachel Bendayan, right.

This was Bendayan’s first general election victory. She was previously elected to the House of Commons in a byelection in February, to fill the seat that was left vacant by the resignation of former NDP leader Tom Mulcair. Hasidic leaders endorsed her candidacy.

The resurgence of the Bloc Québécois saw the party capture 32 of the 78 seats in Quebec, more than tripling its seat count – a state of affairs that is cause for concern in the Jewish community. While BQ Leader Yves-François Blanchet has said that sovereignty is not his immediate goal, expressing Quebec nationalism certainly is.

The Bloc’s campaign slogan, “Le Québec, c’est nous” (“Quebec is us”), has minority communities wondering who the “us” refers to. Its campaign signs read, “La laïcité, c’est nous” (“Secularism is us”), as well as “Le français, c’est nous” (“French is us”).

Blanchet said that his party’s defence of Bill 21, the province’s secularism law, was an important factor in the Bloc’s comeback. He has vowed to battle any attempt by the federal government to get involved in a legal challenge to the legislation.

The day after the election, Quebec Premier François Legault echoed Blanchet, reiterating that Bill 21 is supported by “the vast majority” of Quebecers, who have the right to protect their “national character.”

Also of concern is that the Bloc has in the past aligned itself with the Palestinian cause. In 2017, then-leader Martine Ouellet introduced a motion advocating for Palestinian rights and condemning Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. It also called on Canada to recognize a Palestinian state.

Several pundits who were interviewed by The CJN before the vote listed two Toronto ridings as ones to watch: York Centre and Eglinton–Lawrence. Going into the election, both were held by Liberals who had defeated Conservatives in 2015.

In York Centre, Levitt, who chairs the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group, defeated his Conservative rival, Rachel Willson, by nearly 6,000 votes, despite the fact that the tracking website had listed the riding as a toss-up at one point. In 2015, Levitt won by just over 1,200 votes.

Michael Levitt

Residents of York Centre also received a pre-election mailing from the Conservative party that favourably compared the Tories’ positions on Israel and domestic Jewish concerns with those of the Liberals, prompting complaints from citizens about being targeted as Jews and as single-issue voters.

Levitt responded with a hand-distributed list of Liberal achievements on the subjects. And on the day before the election, York Centre residents received hand-delivered leaflets from the Levitt campaign alleging that Willson was anti-LGBTQ and advocated ending safe access to abortions. “Is this who you want representing you in Ottawa?” it asked.

In Eglinton–Lawrence, Marco Mendicino, who defeated then-finance minister Joe Oliver in 2015, cruised to victory over Conservative Chani Aryeh-Bain by more than 11,000 votes. Mendicino had supported Aryeh-Bain’s court case, in which she attempted, unsuccessfully, to convince the chief electoral officer to move voting day because it conflicted with the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret, when voting and campaigning are prohibited.

In Toronto–St. Paul’s, Liberal stalwart Carolyn Bennett won for the eighth time, crushing her Conservative opponent, Jae Truesdell, by 17,000 votes. The margin of victory was much the same in University–Rosedale, where Liberal Chrystia Freeland, the foreign affairs minister, defeated her closest rival, Melissa Jean-Baptiste Vajda of the NDP, by 16,000 votes.

And in the Toronto riding of Don Valley West, Liberal incumbent Rob Oliphant easily defeated Conservative Yvonne Robertson by more than 12,000 votes. Willowdale was a tighter race, as Liberal Ali Ehsassi defeated Conservative Daniel Lee by 5,700 votes.

Western Canada also saw some historic wins for Jewish-Canadians. For the first time in history, three Winnipeggers of Jewish ancestry are heading to Ottawa, each representing one of the three major parties.

Jim Carr

In a rematch between Carr and Conservative Joyce Bateman, Carr, who served in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet and stickhandled the update of the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, easily prevailed in Winnipeg South Centre, winning about 22,000 votes to Bateman’s 14,500.

On Oct. 25, Carr said that he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, the day after the election. He has begun chemotherapy and dialysis. “I am feeling well,” he said in a press release. “I spoke to the prime minister and reiterated my commitment to continue serving my constituents and all Canadians.”

Carr previously served as a Liberal in the Manitoba legislature from 1988 to 1992, was executive director of the Manitoba Arts Council and was the founding president and CEO of the Business Council of Manitoba.

The sole Jewish Conservative MP will be Marty Morantz, who hails from a well-established Winnipeg family. He served on Winnipeg’s city council from 2014 to 2018, where he was on the mayor’s executive policy committee.

Marty Morantz

A lawyer and businessman, Morantz has served on the board of the Jewish National Fund and with Gray Academy, among other communal activities.

In the federal election, he fended off challenges from the Liberal incumbent and a former Conservative MP running for the People’s party, to win the Winnipeg riding of Charleswood–St. James–Assiniboia–Headingley by about 2,500 votes.

Leah Gazan, who took back Winnipeg Centre for the NDP after the Liberals captured the riding in 2015, is the daughter of Albert Gazan, a Jewish Holocaust survivor from Holland who came to the city as a child, but had little involvement in the Jewish community.

Gazan – a former teacher, psychologist, social worker and human rights activist – is a member of the Wood Mountain Lakota First Nation in Saskatchewan (her mother was part indigenous, part Chinese). Even though she’s not involved with the Jewish community, she told Winnipeg’s Jewish Post and News that she’s “really proud of my Jewish heritage.”

Gazan won her riding by nearly 1,700 votes.

Leah Gazan

Robert Brym, a University of Toronto sociologist and co-author the 2018 Survey of Jews in Canada, said he’s not surprised that Canadian Jews appear to have tilted toward the Liberals.

The survey “suggested that a Liberal bias exists in Canada’s Jewish community, not just in term of party preference, but in terms of attitudes toward income redistribution, same-sex relationships and Israeli settlement policy,” Brym told The CJN.

The Orthodox community, he went on, tends to lean more toward the Conservatives, in terms of party preference and attitudes, so “it is not a shock that Thornhill, with its substantial Orthodox population, tilted Conservative,” he added.

Perhaps the best news for Jews is that Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada did poorly, said McGill University sociologist Morton Weinfeld.

On the other hand, the success of the Bloc in Quebec means that support for Bill 21 will remain strong, Weinfeld suggested. “Depending on how that evolves, a Liberal-NDP government may have to get more active on that file,” he said. “And that could become very unpleasant.”

Reported by Janice Arnold in Montreal, Ron Csillag in Toronto and Myron Love in Winnipeg.