TORONTO — York Centre, in the heart of Toronto, is said to be among the GTA ridings the Conservatives are targeting aggressively. It has been Liberal since 1962, and has seen its share of high-profile MPs: Robert Kaplan, Art Eggleton and now, former Montreal Canadiens star goalie Ken Dryden.
MarkAdler, Kurtis Baily, Ken Dryden, Rosemary Frei
It was once considered a safe Liberal seat, but the Tories have significantly narrowed the gap. In the 2006 election, Dryden defeated his Conservative opponent, Michael Mostyn, by 10,000 votes. Two years later, his margin of victory over Rochelle Wilner, a former B’nai Brith Canada president, had shrunk to about 2,000 votes.
York Centre runs north-south from Highway 401 to Steeles Avenue W. Its approximate eastern boundary begins at Yonge Street in the north then cuts west north of Finch Avenue to Bathurst Street, where it continues to the west branch of the Don River.
The western boundary begins at Keele Street in the north, to Grandravine Drive, to Black Creek and down to Sheppard Avenue, where it cuts west and then south down Jane Street.
It has one of the country’s highest proportions of Jewish residents, at 24 per cent. There’s a strong concentration of Jewish voters hugging the traditional Bathurst Street corridor, many of them immigrants.
Looking to wrest the seat from Dryden is Mark Adler, a businessman and founder, president and CEO of the Economic Club of Canada.
Making his first stab at public office, Adler, 49, pulled no punches when he talked about an “election that none of us wanted and was forced upon us by the opposition coalition.”
He said the “number 1 issue” in the riding is the economy mixed with fears of a shaky government by opposition parties.
“People are very concerned that we are into an unnecessary election that the coalition partners have forced [on] Canada. We have a very fragile economy and the Harper government has put in place a number of measures to bring us out of the recession, the deepest recession we’ve had since the Great Depression.
“We are on course, and now, we have to fight an election that was forced upon all of Canada.”
Voters themselves are using the word coalition, Adler said, and they fear one. Asked whether voters are raising the contempt of Parliament charge levelled against the Conservatives, he said, “no.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper cannot be assailed for his record on Israel, said Adler, who is active in Beth Jacob V’Anshe Drildz and Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda synagogues in Bathurst Manor.
Jewish voters are “very impressed with the firm stand that Stephen Harper and the Conservative government have taken with respect to Israel. The support for Israel and the support for the Jewish community… have been unwavering and unequivocal.”
Adler, who was born and raised in the riding and whose father was a Holocaust survivor, said Canada’s support for Israel is worth it “even if it costs” the country snubs on the world stage. He agrees that an attack on Israel is an attack on Canada.
Despite several attempts by telephone and e-mail, The CJN was unable to reach NDP candidate Kurtis Baily by deadline. He’s making his second attempt to win York Centre for the New Democrats. He received about 12 per cent the vote in 2008.
Baily’s Facebook page, which describes him as a student at York University, contains his views on a variety of matters, including the environment, poverty, Native issues and national sovereignty.
Dryden, 63, who visited Israel when he was minister of social development, said he’s hearing “a lot” about the Middle East on the hustings, but also about “two great points of pride” among Jewish voters: one on matters of social justice and the “important” role Jews have played in such areas as poverty, affordable housing and health care, and the other on the Jewish tradition of discussion and debate.
“People have noticed Mr. Harper’s style and [that] he isn’t comfortable with differences of opinion and does not provide forums for public discussion and debate. I hear that a lot.”
But has Harper’s strong and clear support for Israel cost the Liberals a lot of Jewish votes they used to take for granted?
“I have absolutely heard that,” conceded Dryden, who was first elected in York Centre in 2004. “What I also say is that the support from the Liberals for the Jewish community, going back to the time of the foundation of the State of Israel, has been very strong.”
He argued that it was under former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin that Canada’s votes on four key Arab-sponsored resolutions at the United Nations shifted to a more Israel-friendly stance, “the same or almost the same” position as under the Tories.
Harper’s talk of a Liberal-NDP coalition is “really inappropriate,” Dryden said.
“We have said clearly that that’s not what we would do, expressly and explicitly. A very unfortunate result of last five years in the way Mr. Harper has governed is that he has given a bad name to the phrase ‘working together.’
“Minority governments can work. And for all the qualities Mr. Harper may have, one of the qualities that isn’t there is that instinct and attitude to work together. That is just not his way.”
Running for the Green Party a second time is Rosemary Frei, a 47-year-old freelance medical writer. She polled 6.5 per cent of ballots cast in 2008, about the national average for Green candidates.
The economy is a major issue, Frei said, but so is radiation exposure, or “e-smog” from Wi-Fi and cellphone towers. “People are saying, ‘We’re not happy with cellphone towers being set up atop apartment buildings.’”
Frei estimates there are between 75 and 100 cellphone towers in the riding, while Wi-Fi is being installed in hospitals and nursing homes, where “some of our most vulnerable citizens are being assaulted with radiation.”
She said evidence of harm from this kind of radiation is well-established at the biological level, and that Canada is lagging behind the European Union in establishing standards. The Green Party has called on industry minister Tony Clement to issue warnings.
Frei is a founding member of Ve’ahavta, the Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee, and has served on the board of Nishma, an Orthodox outreach group.
On the Tories’ support for Israel, Frei noted that “the Talmud itself says you have to look after the needy in your area first, but that doesn’t seem to penetrate. People turn a blind eye to Harper’s increase of the deficit and debt.
“Israel is very important, but Jewish values also talk about the widow and the orphan. We’re forgetting that, unfortunately.”