TORONTO (Jun. 29)
Canadian voters have reduced the Liberal government to a minority in the House of Commons, but Jewish officials remain guardedly optimistic that Prime Minister Paul Martin won’t be swayed by the anti-American and anti-Israel positions of his likely coalition partners. Some observers say Canada’s new Parliament looks a little bit like Israel’s Knesset because it’s headed by a minority government that depends upon political coalitions to govern.
“A minority Liberal government that looks to the” left-wing New Democratic Party “for support on issues regarding Israel would be a concern to the Jewish community,” said Frank Dimant, executive vice president of B’nai Brith Canada. “On the other hand, if it looks to the Conservatives for support on these issues, that could be very good for the Jewish community.”
Joseph Ben-Ami, the Ottawa-based communications director for B’nai Brith Canada, noted that foreign policy and various identifiab! ly Jewish issues rarely were discussed during a campaign that touched on health care, taxation, same-sex marriage, child pornography and a Liberal spending scandal.
Rather than endorsing a party or slate of candidates, Jewish officials urged Jews to get involved in the political process and vote in Monday’s hard-fought election.
Early results show the Liberals with 135 seats, the Conservatives with 99, the Bloc Quebecois with 54 and the New Democratic Party with 19. The remaining seat was held by an independent.
Though they didn’t win the election as some polls had predicted, the Conservatives made strong gains in most of the country, solidifying their influence as the official opposition in the House of Commons.
The Conservatives share many of the Jewish community’s stands on a host of foreign policy issues and related issues. They also are regarded as the party most supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism.
Before the election, Je! wish officials were evenhanded in their praise for Martin and Stephen Harper, the Conservative leader, regarding their sympathy for Jewish concerns and support for Israel.
Privately, however, many expressed dissatisfaction with the Liberals’ spotty voting record on Israel-related resolutions at the United Nations, their slowness to enact counterterrorism legislation and other concerns.
“We’re hoping that the government continues its strong bilateral relationship with Israel and, frankly, that it starts to improve its voting record at the U.N. and its support for Israel in international institutions,” said Ed Morgan, national president of the Canadian Jewish Congress.
Morgan called the election results a strong sign “that Canadian democracy is healthy and alive.”
He also welcomed the return to Ottawa of a handful of incumbent politicians — including Irwin Cotler, the Montreal-area human rights activist and former justice minister — known for their strong support for Jewish issues and Israel.
But he noted that several outsp! oken foes of Israel also were returning to Ottawa.
“We’re going to keep our eye on Liberal members of Parliament who take positions that are contrary to the positions of the government,” he said. “If the government has a specific position on the Middle East and one of its” legislators “is outspoken to the contrary, then he or she should be admonished.”
Jewish leaders were incensed after strongly anti-Israel comments from Liberal backbenchers went unpunished under former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who stepped down in December. Many Liberals also escaped reprimand during the Chretien era for voicing strongly anti-American sentiments.
Martin is credited with imposing party discipline and taking other steps to improve Canadian-U.S. relations.
On the domestic front, Jewish leaders give the major parties top marks for their across-the-board condemnation of a recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks. In the latest incident, swastikas were spray-painted in the Toront! o area on election day.
“I’m confident the Martin government will continue to speak out strenuously any time there is an outbreak of anti-Semitism,” Morgan said. “And I’m hoping that Prime Minister Martin will be a strong voice of reason against some of the dissenting elements within his own party. He has himself said that he will not be reflexively anti-American, which in the nature of things often rebounds into negative things about Israel.”