MONTREAL (Oct. 26)
Canadian Jews watched the stunning defeat of the Conservative party in the country’s general elections this week with more satisfaction than regret.
Although the Conservative record vis-a-vis Jewish issues was a positive one, Jews, like the rest of the country’s voters, were none too pleased with the party’s overall performance in recent years.
In the final election results, the Liberal party garnered a historic victory, wining 178 of the 295 seats in the House of Commons, the lower house of Canada’s parliament. The Liberals, led by Jean Chretien, garnered 42 percent of the vote.
The target of a massive countrywide protest vote spurred by national discontent over the economy, the Conservatives held onto only two seats nationwide — a shocking showing that denies them even the status of a national party, which requires a minimum of 12 seats in the House of Commons.
Even Conservative Party leader Kim Campbell, the first woman to hold the prime ministerial post, lost her parliamentary seat to a Liberal after only 138 days as the country’s leader.
This marks the first time since the establishment of the Canadian confederation in 1867 that the Conservatives will not from either the government or the official opposition.
When the last Parliament was dissolved, the Conservatives held 152 seats and the Liberals 79, with the balance split among lesser parties, which now find themselves major players.
Chretien, a finance and justice minister in the government of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, is generally viewed favorably by Canadian Jews. Their most notable difference of opinion in recent years came in 1991, when Chretien made an impassioned plea to then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney not to commit Canadian troops to the Persian Gulf.
SHARES CONCERN OF THE COMMUNITY
Several senior Jewish Liberals in Parliament are expected to be awarded Cabinet posts, among them former opposition leader Herb Gray.
Regarding Israel, the Liberals have historically towed the line set by the late Lester Pearson, the former prime minister who helped establish a United Nations peacekeeping force there.
Canada has usually voted with the U.N. majority on important Israel-related resolutions, although the government has at times showed a coldness toward Israel that Jews found offensive.
Irving Abella, national president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said of the election results, “Though we regret the defeat of several good friends of the community, we are pleased that the new government shares the concerns expressed by the Jewish community on a variety of issues.”
“During the campaign, we stressed the importance of preserving multiculturalism, stamping out racism and anti-Semitism, bringing Nazi war criminals to justice, weeding out racists in the military and other concerns. We have every confidence that Mr. Chretien’s government will deal with these matters,” said Abella.
B’nai Brith Canada sent a letter of congratulations to Chretien, which noted that the organization “has enjoyed an extensive and productive relationship with the Liberal Party and its elected members over many years.
“We join with you and with the many Canadians in undertaking a commitment to fortify our society and to affirm its central values,” the statement said.
Thomas Hecht, chairman of the Canada-Israel Committee’s Quebec region, said he was optimistic about the election results.
“I look forward to working with all members of the new House on issue affecting the Jewish community and Israel. We have friends on both sides of the House,” he said.
‘LOTS OF JEWS AROUND HIM’
Montreal Rabbi Reuben Poupko was satisfied with the results, although he said that “many Jews are disturbed by the fractionalization of the country.”
Poupko pointed out that Chretien has “lots of Jews around him. Eddy Goldenberg is a close adviser, David Sussman is managing his transition team and Les Scheininger (immediate past national president of the Canadian Jewish Congress) has close contacts with the Liberals as well.”
In Montreal, a traditional Liberal stronghold for the Jewish community, Jewish votes went solidly Liberal. Quebec, which had only nine Liberal! Parliament members previously, has now placed 18 in the province.
Even Gerry Weiner, the lone Jewish Cabinet minister in the outgoing government, Lost his seat of Pierrefonds-Dollard to Liberal candidate Gerard Party. And Weiner’s son mark failed in his bid to oust Liberal incumbent Shirley Maheu in St. Laurent.
Neil Drabkin, formerly the elder Weiner’s senior policy adviser in the Ministry of Multiculturalism and Citizenship, came in third in Mount Royal, a Liberal stronghold since 1940.
Since 1984, the Conservatives had swept the nation in two federal elections under Mulroney. But the former prime minister’s unpopularity before he retired last spring, as well as his party’s poor record on the economy, resulted in the most massive protest vote in Canada’s history.
Some 1.6 million Canadians — more than 11 percent of the working population — are unemployed.
The right-wing populist Reform Party, a regional party under the leadership of Preston Manning, scored well in the elections, winning 52 seats, most of them in western Canada.
The party has been the subject of controversy in recent months, with accusations of racial intolerance hurled at several of its members. The party was further discredited when Michael Lublin, an Orthodox Jew from Ontario who was one of the party’s rising stars, resigned.
Manning, who easily won a seat in the House of Commons over his Liberal opponent, has himself been accused of being racist, although he removed a Toronto candidate from the Reform slate in recent weeks for claiming that immigrants would bring “death and destruction” to Canada.