At Issue Reversing the Poles: How the Pro-Israeli Policy of Canada's Conservative Government May Be Moving Jewish Voters from Left to Right

By Merkley, Paul C | Jewish Political Studies Review, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

At Issue Reversing the Poles: How the Pro-Israeli Policy of Canada's Conservative Government May Be Moving Jewish Voters from Left to Right


Merkley, Paul C, Jewish Political Studies Review


Until recently, Jews living in the Western democracies have favored the politics of the center-left. Today, however, as the campaign of delegitimization of Israel gains ground, the duty of loyalty to Israel bulks larger in the imaginations of Jews everywhere, and many are currently adjusting their political priorities to reckon realistically with the fact that support for Israel is now stronger on the right end of the political spectrum than on the left. The recent political history of Canada indicates that greater appreciation for Israel's jeopardy, along with consideration of the exemplary record of support for Israel by the Conservative government (2006 to the present), are causing Canadian Jews to reexamine their place on the political spectrum, opening up the possibility of a reversal of polarity of the Jewish vote in future elections. Results of the most recent election in May 2011 seem to bear out the contention of this essay that a reversal of polarity has already occurred among Canadian Jewish voters.

A Very Brief History of Recent Canadian Politics

In Canada, as in the United States, there has been for many decades an informed assumption that most Jewish voters will be found on the left end of politics. In Canada, for over a decade (1993-2003) this hereditary affinity was compounded by the fact that the center-right virtually disappeared from the political realm during the parliamentary election of October 1993. In a moment of time, the Canadian public unleashed against the newly installed Progressive Conservative prime minister Kim Campbell the anger that had long been accumulating against the government of her predecessor, Brian Mulroney (1984-1993), slashing the government party's seats in the House of Commons from a majority to exactly two. In American terms: it was as though the Republican Party had vanished overnight.

With the collapse of the Progressive Conservative government in 1993 the Liberal Party, the left-of-center party, returned to dominance in national political life. Under Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, the Liberals won two more elections (1997 and 2000.) On 14 November 2003, Paul Martin succeeded Chrétien as leader of the Liberal Party and on 12 December he became prime minister of Canada. Meanwhile, the opposition benches were occupied by four political cabals that (so it seemed) had no way of reaching out to the broader electorate beyond their several different regional and ideological bases.

To make a long and painful story short, it was not until late 2003 that the two conservative fragments - the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives (PC) - entered into formal union as the Conservative Party of Canada, and it was not until early 2004 that they settled upon one leader, Stephen Harper. This left the new party little time to prepare for a general election.

In Chretien's last months, stories about corruption among the Liberal Party's fundraisers tarnished his government's reputation. Still, confident that the forces of the right were not as truly united as they were pretending, Martin called for a general election to be held on 28 June 2004. The Liberals were reduced to a minority - 135 seats of 308, while Conservatives won 99 seats, an increase of 21 over the combined numbers of Alliance and PC in the previous parliament. Just a little over two years later came a report from the Commission of Inquiry into the fundraising scandal; it was so damning of the Liberal Party that the three opposition parties were effectively forced to join in a noconfidence vote against the Martin government on 23 November 2005. An election was immediately called for 3 January 2006. The outcome was a minority government of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Support for Israel among Conservatives during the Years in Opposition

Over the entire thirteen y ears of this last season of Liberal governments (1993-2006), Canadian Jews and friends of Israel became increasingly unhappy about the lack of enthusiasm for Israel's cause in the Liberal government and in the ranks of the Liberal Party, even as expressions of support for Israel came consistently from the conservative parties in the House of Commons. …

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