TORONTO — Conservative MPs in Jewish-populated ridings in Toronto were caught up in the red tide that vaulted the Liberal Party to victory in the Oct. 19 general election, with Finance Minister Joe Oliver the most prominent casualty.
Oliver and York Centre MP Mark Adler lost the seats they won in the 2011 election to Liberals Marco Mendocino and Michael Levitt, respectively. MP Peter Kent retained the Tory seat in Thornhill, just north of Toronto.
Eglinton-Lawrence and York Centre had been longstanding Liberal strongholds until the Tories’ snatched them in the 2011 election, which returned a Conservative majority.
Oliver’s defeat had to be considered the biggest upset. A high-profile cabinet minister largely responsible for steering the economy through difficult economic times, he had also been at the forefront of trumpeting the Tories’ strong support for Israel “through fire and water.”
Liberal and New Democratic candidates in both ridings, along with the party leaders, attempted to undercut that Conservative theme by voicing their own strong support for Israel.
According to an online poll conducted by The CJN about three weeks before the election, 44 per cent of our readers supported Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. To what extent that issue played a part in the final results is unclear this early after the election, but it likely played a role in some Jewish voters’ decisions in the three Toronto-area ridings, each of which count substantial Jewish populations.
According to Statistics Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), Thornhill is home to 45,715 people who identify themselves as Jewish, or 33 per cent of the population.
The numbers are less, but still substantial in the two Toronto ridings. According to the same NHS findings, 24,405 people identify themselves as Jewish in Eglinton-Lawrence, which is about 22 per cent of the population, while 21,310 residents identify themselves as Jewish in York Centre, or about 18 per cent of the population.
The final tally in Eglinton-Lawrence showed that Mendocino, a former federal prosecutor, received 27,494 votes, or 50 per cent of those cast, to Oliver’s 21,601, or 39 per cent. New Democrat Andrew Thomson trailed with six per cent of the vote.
In 2011, Oliver grabbed the riding from longstanding Liberal MP Joe Volpe with 22,633 votes (46.8 per cent) to 18,597 (38.5 per cent) for the Grits.
In back-to-back elections, the results showed that Oliver decreased his votes by about 1,000, while Mendocino grew the Liberal total by around 9,000.
Levitt re-captured York Centre for the Liberals with 20,109 votes (46.8 per cent) to Adler’s 18,893 (44 per cent). Hal Berman of the NDP received 3,148 votes (7.3 per cent).
In 2011, Adler took York Centre for the Tories for the first time since 1962, after receiving 20,355 votes (48.5 per cent) to incumbent MP Ken Dryden’s 13,979 votes (33.3 per cent).
From 2011 to 2015, Adler’s tally dropped by nearly 1,500 votes, while the Liberals increased their total by around 6,000 votes.
Speaking a couple of days after the returns were in, Levitt was savouring his victory and looking forward to getting to work in Ottawa.
“It’s definitely been an exciting time,” he said. “It’s just a fantastic feeling.”
Levitt attributed his win to the voters’ appetite for change after 10 years of the Harper government. The Liberal platform on the economy, refugees and social policy resonated with voters, as did the party’s clear statement of support of Israel and its opposition to the BDS movement.
In winning in York Centre, Levitt was bringing the riding into the Liberal fold. Prior to Adler’s victory in 2011, York Centre had been represented since 1962 by Liberal MPs James Walker, Bob Kaplan, Art Eggleton and Dryden.
One Conservative MP who bucked the Liberal trend was former newsman Peter Kent. The incumbent representative for Thornhill, Kent received 31,911 votes (58.6 per cent) to Liberal Nancy Coldham’s 18,385 (33.7 per cent). New Democrat Lorne Cherry received 2,820 votes (5.2 per cent).
Despite Kent’s comfortable win, the margin of victory narrowed from 2011 to 2015. Four years ago, Kent took Thornhill with 36,629 votes (61.4 per cent) over Karen Mock of the Liberals, who received 14,125 votes (23.7 per cent).
The riding, which was created in 1997 from parts of Markham-Whitchurch-Stouffville and York North, had been held by Liberals Elinor Kaplan and Susan Kadis prior to Kent’s first victory in 2008.