Stephen Harper’s Shandeh

Bernie Farber

What a night! More than 750 Ontarians packed the Canadian Room at the Royal York Hotel for the greatly anticipated Words and Deeds Gala. 

Sponsored by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) in partnership with the Jewish federations of Canada, the gala held in Toronto and Winnipeg bestows “a national award that recognizes leaders whose contribution to humanitarian causes and to tolerance, inclusion and civil discourse in Canadian society is truly outstanding. Recipients of the award are those who demonstrate – by their words and deeds – that the efforts of one can benefit many.”

Past recipients have included:

• Gord Nixon, chief executive officer, RBC Financial Group;

• the late Ted Rogers, chief executive officer RCI Communications Inc.;

• the Richardson family, Winnipeg;

• Tony Gagliano, executive chair and chief executive officer, St. Joseph Communications Inc.;

• Sarabjit S. (Sabi) Marwah, vice-chair and chief administrative officer, Scotiabank.

In September, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg and CIJA will honour the Asper family, indeed worthy recipients, for all they have done, including the late Izzy Asper’s leadership in developing a Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Upon his death, the dream was taken up by daughter Gail, who turned it into a reality. 

On, June 22, CIJA and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto honoured Premier Kathleen Wynne, the first provincial leader ever to be so feted as a Words and Deeds recipient.

The tribute book was filled with pages of congratulations from business leaders, politicians, bankers, philanthropists and Jewish leadership.

People attending the gala were a broad and dynamic example of the diversity of Ontario society. Joining the Jewish community were Indo-Canadians, Chinese Canadians, Canadian Muslims, church leaders, rabbis, police chiefs, politicians and former politicians from all three of Ontario’s political streams and many others.

The letters of tribute were as diverse as those who attended the gala. Beautiful words of commendation came from Israeli Ambassador Rafael Barak, Israeli Consul General DJ Schneeweiss, NDP Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair, Liberal party Leader Justin Trudeau, who was also in attendance, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant, P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan, B.C. Premier Christy Clark, Toronto Mayor John Tory (also present at the gala), along with a host of other mayors from the GTA. 

A letter to Wynne from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was read from the podium, too late for inclusion in the tribute book, but a note of sincere mazel tov to Wynne, whom Bibi considers a friend. 

All wanted to express their admiration and respect for the first lesbian premier of any province, a woman who, as CIJA CEO Shimon Fogel noted, has established “a new tone and approach to doing politics and public policy” and has shown “a propensity to engage in serious public policy issues without the kind of acrimony usually attached to these things.”

A quick look at the list of those expressing their praises will show a glaring absence. Where was “kol hakavod” from Prime Minister Stephen Harper?

Shocked, I checked the tribute book page by page – surely there had to be some mistake. No mistake. Indeed, having planned similar events during my time with Canadian Jewish Congress, I know that organizers would have reached out to the Prime Minister’s Office for greetings. That he chose a spiteful, petty silence says more about the man disrespecting the office of prime minister than anything else.

At a time when the premier announced that she would lead a trade mission to Israel, at a function that is arguably one of the most important on the Jewish calendar, the prime minister of Canada simply couldn’t pack his partisan politics away to do the right thing. Is his spite so much greater than his professed love for Israel and our community that he couldn’t even offer a small note of congratulations for an important communal event? What a shandeh!