Will Stephen Harper resign? Jews will know first

Adam Goldenberg

We're now past the midpoint of Stephen Harper’s premiership. Exactly when he’ll go is anyone’s guess, but this much is certain: it’s neither likely nor impossible that the prime minister will quit before the 2015 federal election.

It’s not likely because, at 55, he’s not old enough to yearn for retirement. In Mr. Harper’s own mind, he has a good shot winning another election, maybe even two. He may not be a happy warrior, but he’s a survivor; he’s kept the job for longer than many expected him to, and there isn’t another one that he’d rather have instead.

But it’s not impossible, either. After eight years in power, his government is showing its age, and successive scandals, self-inflicted Senate snafus, the overpriced procurement of new fighter jets, pointless feuds with the judiciary and so on have taken their toll and tarnished the Tories. An increasing number of voters are tired of the Prime Minister’s autocratic tendencies. The dark magic of negative politics, so critical to the Conservatives’ last two election victories, has a way of consuming its practitioner over time; nothing does more to make voters crave positive politics than nearly a decade’s worth of attack ads. If it becomes obvious in the next 12 months that the electorate is determined to vote for change – and the trend lines in opinion polls have been pointing that way for a while – then the prime minister may decide to escape the humiliation of losing to a Trudeau by taking an early walk in the snow.

If he does, Jews will be among the first to know. After a decade of mostly successful Tory overtures to our community, even the subtlest signal of an impending change in leadership will send the prime minister’s prospective successors scurrying to curry favour at a shul near you.

“Israel has no better friend than Canada!” they’ll insist. It’ll all be as subtle as the State of Israel Bonds appeal during the High Holidays, and probably just as effective.

Unlike a general election, a leadership race is nine innings of inside baseball. The electorate is entirely self-defined; only party members may vote. Victory is a battle of the membership forms, and the candidate who signs up the most nearly always wins.

Hence the Jews: Ours is a relatively well-organized, well-connected community, with a leadership structure that, while not without its detractors, is fairly well co-ordinated. Jews often send their kids to Jewish schools and summer camps, and subscribe to Jewish publications like this one. Jews have Jewish friends, and, together, we talk about politics. In certain ridings across Canada, Jewish votes decide elections. As in other communities with similar collective characteristics – Sikhs, Ukrainians, and Chinese evangelicals, for example – Canada’s Jews present politicians with a potent electoral calculation; as the Tories have learned in successive campaigns, votes among groups like ours aren’t won one at a time. Say the magic word –“Israel!”– and you, too, can be the chosen people’s choice.

It’s savvy political organizing, but it has real consequences. Not only have political parties’ membership databases become balkanized, but our country’s foreign policy has also come to track the community outreach efforts of the party in power. The prime minister’s enormous delegation to Israel, the Conservatives’ hard line against Russian adventurism in Ukraine, the government’s push for an ambitious new trade deal with India –each can be traced back to the political math that has been coded into the DNA of Canada’s engagement with the world.

None of this is necessarily a bad thing, and none of it is unique to the Tories. Still, sooner or later Conservative leadership candidates will try to cash in their government’s chips in communities where votes come in droves. 

So get ready. Speculation over the prime minister’s departure isn’t going anywhere. When it comes time to take it seriously, Jews will be the first to know.

Follow Adam on Twitter: @adamgoldenberg