Why Jews were Red Tories

Michael Taube

The federal Conservatives have more Jewish voters and supporters than ever before. There are two Jewish MPs – Finance Minister Joe Oliver and Mark Adler – and two others (Scott Reid and Tony Clement) with Jewish ancestry. Meanwhile, Linda Frum and Irving Gerstein both serve as Tory senators.

Yet, there have always been Canadian Jews involved with right-leaning political parties. 

Here are some names that should be familiar to CJN readers. 

Former senator Hugh Segal, Eddie Goodman, Stanley Hartt and former MP Gerry Weiner were active in the federal PCs. Allan Grossman was an Ontario Progressive Conservative cabinet minister, and his son, Larry, became party leader. Ron Ghitter was an Alberta PC MLA and later a senator. David Rotenberg, Charles Harnick and David Young were ministers in Ontario PC governments. Sidney Spivak was a cabinet minister in several Manitoba PC governments.

There’s an interesting difference between today’s Jewish Tory politicians and those of yesteryear. In the latter case, most would be classified as left-leaning conservatives, or Red Tories.

What is a Red Tory? 

Gad Horowitz, a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, created the most explicit definition. In his view, Tories and Socialists weren’t very different from one another. As he wrote in the left-wing magazine Canadian Dimension in 1965, “it can be argued that socialism has more in common with toryism than with liberalism, for liberalism is possessive individualism, while socialism and toryism are variants of collectivism.”

Following this train of thought, Red Toryism is a combination of high Tory sensibilities (espoused by philosopher Edmund Burke and former British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, among others) and socialist-type policies. Hence, Canada’s Tories and socialists used to share a commitment to “cradle to grave” government intervention, a social safety net and nationalism. 

A further layer, democratic toryism, was added by former prime minister John Diefenbaker. 

“What distinguishes the democratic tory,” wrote Colin Campbell and William Christian in Parties, Leaders, and Ideologies in Canada, “is a concern for the well-being of the poor, and a belief that those who enjoy the benefits and privileges of society have a responsibility to care for those who are less well-off.” The authors believed democratic toryism was fundamentally different from welfare liberalism and socialism. Adherents of this philosophy “accept progressive taxation to the extent that it reflects the fact that the rich ought to bear a greater burden of responsibility commensurate with their greater wealth, but does not see higher marginal rates for the rich as desirable in themselves.” 

This type of progressive conservatism (no pun intended) appealed to Jews who didn’t support left-leaning parties like the Liberals and CCF/NDP. It helped the Tories become “the instrument of freedom and justice,” as Segal wrote in his autobiography No Surrender, and included a few dashes of populism to boot.

That’s the way the Tories used to be, anyway. 

Today’s right-leaning conservatives, or Blue Tories, are firmly in control of the party’s political and economic agenda. Greater emphasis is placed on the principles of smaller government, lower taxes and increased amounts of personal freedom and liberty. 

Modern conservatives care about the well-being of all Canadians and always work toward this important goal. That being said, statist programs dealing with collectivism, social justice and progressive taxation are, I’m pleased to say, no longer part of the Tory diet.    

Here’s another reason: Red Toryism is dead. 

There are still Red Tories in Canada, of course. But, as I’ve written before, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has rebranded Canadian conservatism. This political phenomenon, which I’ve called “Harpertism,” balances Red Toryism with Blue Toryism. The result is Tory centrism, a middle-of-the-road conservatism that’s less ideological and much harder to define and attack.  

As the Conservatives have changed, so, too, have Jewish Tory MPs, party members and voters. Their needs are different, their beliefs have changed, and their political philosophy is a different colour. 

Michael Taube is a Washington Times columnist, and a former speechwriter for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.