At first glance, it might seem the recently contested election in Ontario revealed few, if any, implications for the province’s Jewish community. Such thinking fails to account for the important story this election has illuminated.
To the great surprise of many pollsters, the election was a major Liberal success, especially in urban ridings. Clearly, a significant number of Jews voted Liberal – even in ridings where the Progressive Conservatives ran Jewish candidates. The take-away is that many Jews voted Liberal because they believed a government led by Premier Kathleen Wynne was the more stable and fair-minded choice.
The PCs and soon-to-be-former leader Tim Hudak ran a campaign of confrontation and conflict that promised unrest – especially in the public service sector, where Hudak surprisingly promised to slash 100,000 jobs. In my experience, Jewish voters tend to get twitchy and anxious in times of political uncertainty, and that’s why the Jewish community also chose to vote against Hudak.
Like all communities, Jews vote based on our own self-interests. Certainly we care about Israel, but our personal interests run deep, too. The Jewish community understands that liberal democracy is necessary, but not entirely sufficient. As a general rule, Jewish communities thrive when paired with non-dogmatic and open governments.
This election proves that the Jewish community cares about issues like maintaining a successful public school system, the environment, the charter, the Supreme Court, social welfare, justice and safety. Jews care about these issues because they influence their daily lives. They are committed to a fair and just society, because they know it is only in such a society that they will continue to thrive. It’s in their best interest to support political parties that adhere to these values.
The Jewish community cares about helping more people live better – and to that end, in my mind, the recent election in Ontario sends a clear message to Prime Minister Stephen Harper: Jews want their government to be pro-Israel, but not to the exclusion of a fair-minded, non-confrontational method of governing. Harper seems to adhere to a more aggressive manner of governing – that much has been evident in his approach to the census, the Supreme Court, citizenship, a women’s right to choose and other social welfare issues. For some, these and similar actions are not in keeping with Jewish values.
Most Jews express unequivocal support for the State of Israel, but this election suggests many of them could reject a party that comes across as overly truculent. Why? Because we understand instinctively that such governments can be bad for Jews. A fair society is what we want.
Harper and his Conservatives must learn from this election – and so should the Jewish community. Ontarian, and all Canadian, Jews need to feel that the Jewish organizations that represent them in Canada are responding to issues within Canada – issues that affect them each and every day. Politically speaking, this means groups like the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) need to be sensitive to issues here in Canada that Jews care about. This is not to say that these sorts of groups can’t focus on Israel, only that they cannot do so exclusively (or at least close to it). The strength of Jewish groups, including CIJA, will come from meeting the needs of their community.
All people, Jews included, tend to vote in their own self-interest. In the case of the Jewish community, this means we lean toward fair-minded and kinder governments. Issues directly affecting Ontarian Jewish voters dominated this election – the parties’ respective positions on Israel were of much less concern, and anti-Semitism fears were even further behind. As a result, it appears Ontario’s Jews chose to vote for a government dominated by Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals.
Martin Goldfarb is chair of Goldfarb Intelligence Marketing, a Toronto-based public opinion research and marketing firm. He served as the official pollster to the Liberal Party of Canada from 1973 to 1992.