Jewish Canadians have no shortage of choices in the race for a new leader for the federal Conservative party, from red Tories to the true blue, and from deeply experienced to political neophytes.
The leadership convention takes place in Toronto May 26 and 27.
In past comments to The CJN, virtually all of the 14 leadership hopefuls have expressed strong support for Israel, seeking to continue former prime minister Stephen Harper’s fervent backing for the Jewish state.
One of them, Kellie Leitch, has gone even further than Harper ever suggested: she said she would move Canada’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, noting on her website that it is “the right thing to do.”
Leitch is the only candidate to have a separate button for Israel on her website.
She has the support of veteran Conservative operative Jules Kronis, who counts the candidate as “an old friend.”
Leitch is “clearly competent,” said Kronis, a Toronto lawyer whose involvement in the party goes back to the days of prime minister John Diefenbaker. “She’s learned, talented, has experience and would do a good job.”
When it comes to Israel, “everybody’s a supporter,” said Kronis, referring to the leadership hopefuls. “The question is whether they are an advocate for Israel when the blinds are down and the lights are out. Kellie’s that person.”
Bruce Gilboord, a Toronto financial planner who’s been involved in Conservative politics in Ontario for years, especially in past efforts to secure public funds for private Jewish schools, said candidate Andrew Scheer has “said the right words.”
Noting that one in 12 Canadian children attend school outside the public system, Scheer has promised that as prime minister, he would allow parents of students attending independent schools a tuition tax deduction of up to $4,000 annually per child.
Scheer, a former speaker of the House of Commons, has said his policy would not affect the current tax deductibility for the religious portion of independent school tuition.
That’s music to Gilboord’s ears.
Ottawa “can come up with a federal tax-based solution to a provincial ministry problem,” Gilboord said. “They do it for colleges and universities. They can damn well do it for [private] schools.”
Gilboord said he also likes candidate Kevin O’Leary “for his personality,” but that he can’t distinguish the other individual candidates from such a wide field, “especially when their policies are so similar.”
Scheer, just 37, is also the preferred candidate for longtime Conservative operative Georganne Burke, who was candidate Maxime Bernier’s campaign manager before leaving last September and later joining Scheer’s campaign.
Burke also likes Scheer’s school tuition deduction plan, describing it as “very doable,” and said the candidate is “an unabashed supporter of Israel. He understands the dangers that lie in the political upheaval that emanates from that part of the world, and knows that a strong Israel is essential to safeguarding western values.”
Scheer has a plan “for responsible and meaningful immigration to Canada, as well as a plan for dealing with illegal immigrants,” said Burke, who’s also a veteran of the Jewish school funding issue and ran the failed re-election bid of former York Centre Tory MP Mark Adler.
Burke also sees “strong Conservative values” in Scheer.
Robert Libman, who ran for the House of Commons in the Montreal riding of Mount Royal in the 2015 federal election as a Tory, but was defeated by Liberal Anthony Housefather, said he’s leaning toward Bernier.
“He’s got strong roots in Quebec. He’s articulate and charismatic,” said Libman, a former mayor of Cote Saint-Luc and member of Quebec’s National Assembly.
“In this day and age, when opposing [Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau involves how telegenic and charismatic you are, he can be an interesting challenger.”
Bernier “has depth and substance, and is more the total package than most of the candidates,” Libman said, adding the candidate is “a strong supporter of Israel” who came out to help on Libman’s own federal campaign.
As an MP, former cabinet minister, pediatric surgeon with an MBA, and the founder of a children’s charity, Leitch “has a remarkable record of accomplishments outside politics,” noted Toronto-based investor and philanthropist Michael Diamond (not to be confused with a Leitch spokesperson of the same name).
Leitch is “smart, tough and hard working,” said Diamond. “She has made the need to celebrate our Canadian identity and values a core campaign issue.”
Despite drawing flak in some quarters for her “values test” for newcomers to Canada, Leitch plans to ensure “that all who come to Canada understand our values of tolerance, freedom, hard work and respect for women,” Diamond said.
He, too, cited Leitch’s strong support for Israel and her pledge to move the embassy.
A spokesperson for Heather Reisman, founder and CEO of Indigo Books and Music, who very publicly bolted the Liberal party in 2006 and embraced Harper because of his staunch support for Israel, said Reisman would not comment for this story.
Jewish former finance minister Joe Oliver told The CJN he had yet to endorse anyone, then came out for Bernier. The candidate “has the ideas, judgement, experience and political skills to be a formidable leader of the Opposition and a transformative prime minister,” Oliver wrote in the Toronto Sun.
Bernier would lower taxes, end inter-provincial trade barriers, pursue international trade, and scrap the carbon tax and capital gains tax, among other “much-needed reforms,” Oliver wrote April 5.