WINNIPEG — It looks increasingly like the riding of Winnipeg South Centre – the Winnipeg riding with the largest number of Jewish voters – will once again have a Jewish Liberal representative in Ottawa after a four-year hiatus.
The riding had been represented for 11 years by Liberal MP Anita Neville, who was defeated in 2011 by former school trustee Joyce Bateman, running for the Tories. This time around, Bateman is in trouble, with polls showing Liberal Jim Carr, a Jewish former Liberal MLA, polling at close to 50 per cent support and Bateman trailing with about half that.
Bateman didn’t necessarily help her case Sept. 30 when she appeared at B’nai Brith Canada debate at the Asper Community Campus, along with Carr, NDP candidate Matt Henderson and Green candidate Andrew Park.
While Carr spoke about his life-long commitment to the Liberals and shared some of his experiences canvassing voters, Bateman drew loud groans for alleging the Liberals embrace terrorism and even louder groans and cries of “Shame” for using her concluding remarks to mention Liberal candidates elsewhere who have been vocally anti-Israel or soft on Muslim extremism.
The debate consisted of five questions posed by moderator Dan Lett, a Winnipeg Free Press political columnist. The candidates each had two minutes to answer and one minute for rebuttal after all had responded
Responding to a question about Israel and the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, Park, an associate professor of ecology at the University of Winnipeg, slammed Israel for settlement expansion, called on Israel and Egypt to lift their blockade of Gaza and questioned the viability of the two-state solution.
He did note that the Green party doesn’t support BDS, but is strongly in favour of free speech.
“We affirm the inviolable right of Israel to exist,” he said “But that doesn't mean we subscribe to [Prime Minister] Stephen Harper's view that somehow Israel among all nations is immune to criticism.”
Bateman spoke of the Harper Government’s strong support of Israel and forcefully condemned anti-Semitism, saying Israel is held to higher standards than other countries.
“Our government will always oppose the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement,” she said. “We will also always oppose anti-Semitism, which is what BDS is really all about, just as we will oppose any attempt to delegitimize Israel, who is a friend and ally and… the only democracy in the Middle East.”
Henderson said the NDP recognizes Israel’s right to defend itself and suggested that at the local level, the community should get together with BDS proponents to determine the root causes of behind the movement and try to find a solution.
“[NDP Leader] Tom Mulcair has come out clearly and used the words that the BDS movement is grossly unacceptable,” Henderson said. “The NDP is a friend of Israel. We believe absolutely that Israel has the right to defend itself and that we need to maintain trade relations with the only democracy in the Middle East.”
Carr spoke of the long history of anti-Semitism, noting that his grandparents and great-grandparents came to Canada more than 100 years ago to escape anti-Semitism in Russia. “That is why for me Israel must always be a Jewish state. BDS is a new manifestation of anti-Semitism and we oppose it.”
The rebuttal phase centred around Canada working with the UN for peace in the Middle East. Carr pointed out Canada’s isolation on the world stage vis-à-vis Israel, pledging that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau would work through the UN, but would never accept any resolutions calling for a boycott of Israel.
The second question concerned the Iran nuclear deal. Bateman outlined the Iranian regime’s crimes against humanity and the Harper government’s principled stands against dealing with Iran.
Henderson said the NDP believes that peace is better than war and Canada needs to reopen its embassy in Tehran to be able to monitor Iran to ensure it abides by the terms of the recent nuclear deal.
Carr said the chances of influencing Iran are better if Canada is talking to the regime, while Park said he thinks it’s a mistake for Canada not to have diplomatic relations with Iran and sees potential for it to be an ally in fighting ISIS.
Another question regarding B’nai Brith’s annual report on anti-Semitism in Canada and the government’s anti-terrorism Bill C-51 drew the expected responses, with Park opposing the legislation, Bateman defending it and Carr saying a Trudeau government would amend it.
The second-last question was about poverty, with Carr pointing out pockets of poverty in the largely affluent Winnipeg South Centre riding, while Park called for a guaranteed livable income, Bateman defended the Harper government’s efforts to reduce poverty and Henderson criticized Ottawa for not doing more.
The last question was about the economy. Bateman praised the Tories’ job-creation record, while Park and Henderson both pledged their parties would end income splitting. Carr said it was the previous Liberal government that balanced the budget and reduced the deficit, while Harper actually increased the deficit in his first years in office. Carr and Park also challenged the idea that a balanced budget should be top priority.
Carr defended Justin Trudeau’s plan to run $10-billion deficits for the next three years, arguing that with interest rates low and the economy slipping, it’s a good time for governments to borrow money to invest in infrastructure and training to boost the economy.