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Heated Canadian Campaign Played Tug of War with Jews

As Prime Minister Jean Chretien prepares for his return to Ottawa for a third consecutive majority government, he leaves behind a campaign that courted Canada’s Jewish vote as never before.

At the height of the campaign, in which an unusual amount of mud was slung, Jewish Parliament member Elinor Caplan, who represents a sizeable Jewish electorate in a district north of Toronto, declared supporters of the Canadian Alliance to be “Holocaust deniers, prominent bigots and racists.”

Jack Silverstone, the national executive director for the Canadian Jewish Congress, said that while he’s convinced the accusation is not true, it shows how the Canadian Alliance engaged in a fierce tug of war with the Liberals over Jewish support during the heated, 37-day campaign leading up to Monday’s election.

The Liberals won 170 seats in the 301-seat Parliament and the Quebec-based separatist party, the Bloc Quebecois, dropped to 38 seats, six less than in the last Parliament.

As before, the official opposition is the right-wing Canadian Alliance Party, which held steady at 68 seats, mostly in western Canada.

Five Jewish members of Parliament, all Liberal, retained their seats, including Herb Gray, who currently serves as deputy prime minister.

According to Silverstone, the government’s support of a recent United Nations resolution that seemed “unfair and unbalanced” in its condemnation of Israel probably cost the Liberals some Jewish votes.

“But we’re also aware that the Canadian representatives have taken important positive initiatives in support of Israel at the United Nations that have been welcomed by the Israeli government,” Silverstone said.

It was perhaps disenchantment with the Liberals arising from the U.N. vote that sparked the heated campaign rhetoric in pursuit of Jewish votes, Silverstone said.

“A great deal of effort was made to draw our community in partisan ways to a degree unprecedented in our experience,” he said.

Although Canada’s Jewish community numbers only 350,000 in an overall population of 30 million, Jewish votes are seen as key in a handful of urban districts, mostly in Montreal and Toronto, which are regarded as traditional Liberal strongholds.

“We repeatedly had to remind the players” from the Liberal and Canadian Alliance parties “that we are a non-partisan organization and that we do not endorse candidates for political office,” said Silverstone.

“We resisted their aggressive attempts to make a political football out of our community. We have good relations with all the parties and we were not going to be dragged into a partisan debate, despite their most intense efforts.”

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