Critical Kvetching: Sophia Hershfield covers Canadian politics from the left with a glance at a federal byelection in her Winnipeg hometown riding

Sophia Hershfield is here for some Critical Kvetching.

Welcome to Critical Kvetching, a column in which York University graduate student Sophia Hershfield provides her take on the Jewish side of politics in Canada.

While, to the possible disappointment of my hometown, I currently reside in Toronto, I spent 22 years living in the riding Winnipeg South Centre. Granted, I was not of voting age for the first 18 of those years—but as someone whose social calendar in high school was predominantly debate-club events, I was still following politics closely before I could cast my own ballot.

The seat has been vacant since the December 2022 death 71-year-old Liberal MP Jim Carr, and parties lined up candidates in anticipation of the announcement of the byelection, which has now been set for June 19.

Damir Stipanovic is the Conservative candidate, the Greens nominated Doug Hemmerling, and the New Democrats can cast votes for Julia Riddell.

But the familiar name in the running is a Jewish one: Ben Carr, the son hoping to replace his father on Parliament Hill.

Winnipeg South Centre is home to a significant Jewish population (representing 6.9 percent of eligible voters at last count) and it appears that number is growing. Federally speaking, the area has filp-flopped between Conservative and Liberal over the decades. Manitoba’s current Jewish lieutenant-governor Anita Neville held the seat in from 2010 to 2011. Jim Carr won the elections in 2015, 2019 and 2021—the last was 15 months before he lost his battle with cancer.

While the North End holds great significance in local Jewish history, the community is becoming more and more centralized in the South End, especially after Congregation Etz Chayim put their building on Matheson up for sale. South Centre is increasingly where Jewish Winnipeggers vote—and get elected.

While the Jewish voters of Winnipeg South Centre are often painted with the same brush—more conservative, living in Tuxedo or River Heights—there is more diversity than one might expect (some of us live in Fort Garry and love Karl Marx). In fact, the race between the Liberals and the Conservatives is often quite close, with a strong showing for the NDP.

The last time it went Conservative in 2011, the votes were split 39 percent for the Conservatives, 37 percent Liberal, and 20 percent NDP. After the federal election in 2021, the Liberals performed even stronger, with 46 percent of the total votes, while the Conservatives secured 28 percent and the NDP trailed at 21 percent.

Now if you, dear reader, aren’t from around those parts, you may be wondering why you should care. And it’s because Winnipeg South Centre is a much better microcosm of Canadian Jewish political leanings than you might think.

According to the 2018 Survey of Jews in Canada, conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research, 36 percent of Jewish voters supported the Liberals, 32 percent the Conservatives, and 10 percent the NDP. In the 2019 election, the riding’s results echoed those sentiments.

So, while attention often focuses on the large Jewish communities of Montreal and Toronto, this corner of Winnipeg rightfully deserves a larger place in the conversation.

Different candidates have used different strategies to win the Jewish community’s vote, with varying degrees of success. Notably, during the election in 2015, B’nai Brith Canada hosted the four main candidates for a debate at the Rady JCC.

Joyce Bateman, the Conservative MP at the time, went for the Israel strategy to appeal to Jewish voters, while Jim Carr leaned into his Jewish heritage, connecting his own family’s history to Liberal immigration policy.

When asked about her take on the economy, Bateman used her time to suggest that Jim Carr and the Liberals cozy up with terrorists, a comment which saw the crowd falling into exasperated groans. When she used her concluding statements to name-drop Liberals who she said were too critical of Israel or too soft on terrorism, the crowd responded by shouting “shame.”

Jewish voters are more than a one-issue monolith—and Bateman illustrated how fruitless that strategy is. The likely result of this byelection is all but certain to establish a different dynasty, at least for a while.

The rest of the country should keep a close eye on the NDP, though. The organized Jewish community has sent a great deal of internal and external communications criticizing the federal New Democrats for their Middle East policy. After spending years in the crossfire, they’ve grown thicker skin, and retain a strong identity with the leftist, justice-oriented, and labor-loving Jewish history—which is especially strong in the home of the 1919 general strike.

Meanwhile, the current Israeli government keeps pushing further and further to the right, I doubt that being the “pro-Israel party” will have much capital. Ben Carr, by contrast, can connect Jewish history and values to the Liberals.

Watching how all candidates approach Jewish outreach in this byelection is important, as it may very well determine their strategies for the future of federal politics from a Jewish community perspective. A little bit of Zionist fanservice is no longer enough.

Sophia Hershfield can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Critical Kvetching.