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Split vote in Canada creates ‘almost a replica’ of Knesset

TORONTO, June 3 (JTA) — Canadian Jewish officials have expressed satisfaction with the results of this week’s national election that saw a slight weakening of the separatist Quebec party. Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s Liberal Party will remain the governing party with a slim majority. The Bloc Quebecois, the Quebec-based party that seeks to remove the French-speaking province from Canada, won 44 seats, a loss of six from the last Parliament. Any perceived weakening of the separatists will serve to bolster the spirits of Montreal’s 101,000-strong, largely anglophone Jewish community, and perhaps slow the steady exodus of young Montreal Jews to Toronto, Vancouver and other cities. However, the Reform Party’s new status as official opposition may hinder national unity, some observers say, because its “tough-love” attitude toward Quebec probably pushed many of that province’s voters into the separatist fold. “The Reform Party will be a millstone around the federalists’ neck for the next few years because they will issue statements that will be seen as anti-Quebec, and those statements will be used to drag down the federalist side,” said Irving Abella, past chair of the Canadian Jewish Congress. Abella characterized the new Parliament as a “multi-party quilt,” with each of the five parties — the New Democratic Party and the Progressive Conservatives are the other two — representing different points of view and visions. Frank Dimant, executive director of B’nai Brith Canada, sees similarities between the composition of Canada’s new Parliament and another legislative body familiar to many in the Jewish world. “We’re going to have almost a replica of the Knesset,” said Dimant. “We have a Parliament that is divided, with a governing party that has a very slim majority. “It will mean that we’ll have to do a lot more work and a lot more lobbying to make sure that each of the five parties is aware of the issues on the Jewish agenda.” During the campaign, the CJC raised a variety of domestic and international issues with the candidates, including the presence of alleged Nazi war criminals in Canada, national unity, the fight against racism, and refugee and immigration policies. To some, the country now seems politically divided along “regional fault lines.” The Liberal Party lost 28 seats in the 301-seat Parliament but still managed to maintain a majority of 156 seats, two-thirds of which came from the central province of Ontario. Meanwhile the Reform Party failed to win a single district east of Manitoba, while the Bloc Quebecois, by self-definition, only won seats within Quebec. Thanks largely to the personal charisma of leader Jean Charest, the once-powerful Progressive Conservatives made a dramatic comeback from 2 to 21 seats, all situated in Quebec and provinces along the Atlantic Ocean. The New Democratic Party also made gains at the Liberals’ expense in the eastern provinces, increasing from 9 to 20 seats. “I think it’s disturbing that the country is so fragmented and that there’s only one party that can make a reasonable claim to being a national party,” said Harold Waller, a professor of political science at McGill University in Montreal. “No party is positioned to be an alternative to the Liberals in the next election. That’s not good for the country.” Recognizing the narrowness of his majority, Chretien reached out to Reform and Conservative leaders during his victory speech, and promised to continue to promote “the longstanding Canadian values of tolerance, openness, generosity and inclusion.”