Stephen Harper became Canada’s 22nd prime minister in February 2006. Since that time, he has worked extremely hard to build stronger ties between the Conservative Party and the Canadian Jewish community.
To Harper’s credit, his efforts have been quite successful. An Ipsos-Reid exit poll noted that 52 per cent of Canadian Jews voted for the Tories in the 2011 federal election. While a higher number would have been more desirable, it’s a start in the right direction.
Many left-wing Jews have tried to dismiss these important Tory gains as a short-term political phenomenon. “It’s all because of Harper’s pro-Israel stance,” some have said. “The Jewish community doesn’t believe in the right-wing political and economic ideas that the Tories espouse,” argue others. “In time, they’ll all go back to their natural political homes and vote either Liberal or NDP,” a few triumphantly proclaim.
A fascinating analysis, to be sure. If I may borrow a line from William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”
All kidding aside, it’s easy to understand the left’s terse reaction. In my view, the political tide has turned in Canada – not temporarily, but permanently. Historic political allegiances and perceived voting behaviour are things of the past. In their place, Canadian Jews (especially younger ones) now understand the Tories aren’t the political bogeymen the older generation once feared and resisted. They realize that Jewish values and Tory values have a great deal in common, and this important relationship will only continue to get stronger.
It’s true that some Canadian Jews supported Harper and the Tories due to their strong defence of Israel. They would be regarded as single-issue voters, something that all political parties have to deal with during election cycles. Many of these individuals cannot be counted on for long-term support, but some will seek out a better understanding of Tory policies and principles. In time, they may like what they see.
Meanwhile, Harper and the Tories aren’t advancing, and have never advanced, a right-wing political and economic agenda since taking office. No federal or provincial political party on the right has ever done this in our country’s history. (Some of us wish they had, but that’s a different story.) Rather, they’re following a political and economic path shaped by incremental conservatism. As noted by the University of Calgary’s Tom Flanagan, this particular strategy leads to “endorsing even very small steps if they are in the right direction, and accepting inaction in areas that can’t feasibly be changed right now, but opposing government initiatives that are clearly going the wrong way.”
This helps explain why the Tories have consistently favoured targeted tax credits instead of broad-based tax relief; why they have supported small-scale private reforms to social services, and maintained commitments to publicly funded programs like universal health care, and why they have promoted a stronger role for Canada in international affairs rather than simply abandoning hapless organizations like the United Nations.
There is no hidden Tory political agenda. There is no elaborate scheme to dramatically change Canadian ideas and values. Rather, these are all policies designed to decrease government’s overwhelming role in our daily lives and increase individual rights, economic freedom and democratic values.
Have there been some bumps in the road? Of course. Last year’s Senate scandal was a huge political setback for the Tory government. At the same time, the elimination of the federal budget deficit in 2015, the open skies agreement with Mexico, and the monumental trade deal with the European Union are all direct results of the Tory policy of incremental conservatism.
Harper’s steady political hand and economic stewardship have made us a financial success among G20 countries. His vital interest in foreign policy matters has made our country a leader on the international stage. And, of course, his principled and honourable support for Israel is commendable and deserves our thanks.
Sure, there will always be Jews who vote for left-wing parties. Yet a growing number of them realize a Tory-led Canada has greater political and economic potential than a Liberal-led Canada ever did. Contrary to popular belief, they’re not going to abandon the Tories anytime soon.