TORONTO — While the purpose can be obscured by the hoopla, the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee’s (CJPAC) annual Action parties are serious business – especially with Canadians going to the polls this fall.
“It’s important for us to get as many people involved in the democratic process during this particular year – volunteering on campaigns, getting involved,” said the group’s executive director, Mark Waldman.
“But the ultimate is to get people also involved in the party of their choice, getting involved in their local riding association and generally having more awareness.”
CJPAC hosted its ninth annual Toronto bash March 26, as a record crowd of 1,400 descended on the waterfront’s Sound Academy to reconnect with old friends, meet new ones and shmooze with a who’s who of Canadian politicians. In May, the group’s Montreal chapter will hold its Action party.
CJPAC’s parties highlight a side of politics not showcased on TV or in political science classes: the fun side. Policy statements are verboten. Instead, partygoers enjoy hors d’oeuvres, desserts and an open bar. If attendees had been polled, the night’s landslide winner would have been a drink: the “spring sour,” a whisky sour variant with Canadian maple syrup and apple cider, garnished with a cinnamon stick.
More than 50 politicians from all parties and all levels of government turned out, including three federal ministers, three provincial ministers and an associate minister, and Toronto Mayor John Tory.
“It’s a great opportunity to meet with and network with so many members of the Jewish community and beyond,” said Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins, a Liberal MPP who represents Toronto’s St. Paul’s riding, home to a large Jewish population.
Hoskins noted the party’s unpretentiousness. “It’s a lot better than a lot of the events,” he said. “Every MPP that has come here over the years will tell you that it’s near the top.”
Organizers say the less formal approach removes barriers to political entry for young professionals in the parties’ sweet spots.
“Most events where you have politicians, it’s more formal and they wouldn’t have those opportunities,” said Waldman. “And through this they can see how approachable the elected officials are, that they can just walk up to them, talk to them, start a conversation. But hopefully it doesn’t stop there. It leads to them getting more involved.”
With civic engagement low generally, CJPAC has dedicated “a large amount” of its resources to engaging younger Canadians, he added. “You do see within the political world, it tends to be the young people who are getting involved on campaigns disproportionately,” Waldman said. “That’s an important demographic.”
Event co-chair Nick Kadysh, 28, is one of the group’s success stories.
“Back when I was a university student, I started off as a CJPAC fellow,” he said, referring to the group’s year-long training program. “I wasn’t very politically involved, but I sort of began getting involved through CJPAC, at first slightly and then more and more and more. And then through [the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs] I ended up working on Parliament Hill, and then I held a number of political roles, in campaigns and legislatures across the country. And now I’m in the private sector. But throughout, I maintained a relationship with CJPAC.”
The party’s enviable attendance, he said, reflects its fun vibe, but that’s not the whole story. “We are not the only event in the world that is fun,” Kadysh said. “I think you need to be at least curious about political engagement in order to want to come.”
Part of Action’s success, he said, stems from the people of different backgrounds in CJPAC’s network. This year’s organizing committee had more than 50 members. Among them was Brett Chang, a 23-year-old tech entrepreneur who once worked for Tim Hudak, former leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives. Chang, a self-described longtime Israel supporter, called CJPAC programs “the best training in the country.”