While Canadian Jews have never voted as a monolith, they have tended to choose Liberals federally, attracted by the party’s stance on tolerance and immigration – values Jewish voters have traditionally held close. A possible blip was the election that brought former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to a majority in 2011.
Given where Jewish-Canadians live and vote, that trend toward voting Liberal may well continue in the upcoming election. However, some pollsters say two Toronto-area ridings – Eglinton–Lawrence and York Centre, both with sizable Jewish populations and both held by Liberals – could go either way and are most worth watching.
Using the 2011 National Household Survey, Andrew Griffith, a former federal employee who runs the blog Multicultural Meanderings, identified 14 federal ridings in which Jews accounted for at least five per cent of the population. That’s believed to be significant, given that Jews form only about one per cent of Canada’s total population.
Those ridings are: Thornhill (37 per cent Jewish); Mount Royal (30.7 per cent); Eglinton–Lawrence (22 per cent); York Centre (19 per cent); Toronto-St. Paul’s (14.7 per cent); Outremont (11 per cent); Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Westmount (10.6 per cent); Don Valley West (8.8 per cent); Pierrefonds–Dollard (8.5 per cent); Winnipeg South Centre (7.6 per cent); Saint-Laurent (7.4 per cent); University–Rosedale (7 per cent); Willowdale (6.6 per cent); and Richmond Hill (5.2 per cent).
All but one of those, Thornhill, are currently held by Liberals.
According to the website 338Canada.com, which predicts outcomes based on the latest polls, seven of those ridings are considered “safe” Liberal seats: Mount Royal, Outremont, Notre Dame-de-Grâce–Westmount, Pierrefonds-Dollard, Saint-Laurent, Toronto–St. Paul’s and University–Rosedale.
As of this writing, Don Valley West and Willowdale are listed as “likely” Liberal seats.
“Leaning” Liberal are Eglinton-Lawrence and Winnipeg South Centre. York Centre and Richmond Hill are listed as a “tossup,” while Thornhill is projected as “likely” staying with the Conservatives.
The projections seem in line with data collected over the past six months by Campaign Research Inc., which suggested that Jewish-Canadians favour Liberals over Conservatives by a margin of 42 per cent to 36 per cent.
Tighter numbers were seen in the 2018 Survey of Jews in Canada, which was conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research. It found that Jewish political support stood at 36 per cent for the Liberals, 32 per cent for the Conservatives, 10 per cent for the NDP and two per cent for the Greens. It also found a fair chunk of respondents – 18 per cent – indicated “none” or “don’t know/no answer” when it came to party support.
The study’s main takeaway was that Jewish support seemed evenly split between the Liberals and Conservatives, as it appears to be among the general population.
The 2016 census, whose flawed methodology vastly under-reported the number of Jews in Canada, had the same ridings as the NHS in the top five, but in slightly different order. According to it, Thornhill, Mount Royal, York Centre, Eglinton-Lawrence and Toronto–St. Paul’s had the largest Jewish populations.
“No doubt” the races to watch are Eglinton–Lawrence and York Centre, Eli Yufest, the CEO of Campaign Research, told The CJN. He said there is “little evidence” to suggest that Thornhill (held by Conservative Peter Kent), Mount Royal (held by Liberal Anthony Housefather) or Toronto–St. Paul’s (held by Liberal Carolyn Bennett) are in play.
Michael Levitt recaptured York Centre for the Liberals in 2015 by a slim 1,238 vote margin over his Conservative rival (the riding has about 18,800 Jews). In Eglinton–Lawrence, Liberal Marco Mendicino was hailed as a giant slayer four years ago for defeating a sitting finance minister, Conservative Joe Oliver, by 3,490 votes.
The 2019 campaign kicked off with a strong Jewish flavour, when the country’s chief electoral officer was taken to court with a demand that the date of the vote be moved because it conflicts with the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret.
After much legal back and forth, the decision was made not to change the date from Oct. 21, but that numerous alternatives for religiously observant voters would be offered.
But given that voting day clashes with a Jewish holiday, York Centre and Eglinton–Lawrence are all the more interesting to watch because they were won by the Liberals in 2015 by relatively small margins, noted Yufest. If Orthodox voters in those ridings, which have generally been leaning Conservative over the past several federal and provincial elections, don’t vote in advance polls this time, “it stands to reason that the Liberals will benefit from it and may be victorious on election day on account of this issue,” he said.
Mendicino’s Conservative opponent in Eglinton–Lawrence is Chani Aryeh-Bain, who was one of the complainants in the Federal Court case over the election date (Mendicino supported her fight to move the date). Aryeh-Bain has undoubtedly done the math: given 338Canada.com’s prediction of a close race in her riding, she is hoping Orthodox voters cast ballots early; if not, the possibility of her defeat exists if enough of the riding’s 24,400 Jews do not vote on Oct. 21.
However, Quito Maggi, the CEO of Mainstreet Research, guesses that Mendicino has a comfortable 20-point lead in Eglinton–Lawrence and that Bennett in Toronto–St. Paul’s is ahead by 25 points. In fact, Maggi said he cannot find a single race in Toronto where the Liberals are not leading.
Of the five ridings with the largest Jewish populations, Maggi sees Thornhill as the only one up for grabs, even though Kent, who’s held the seat since 2008, won there last time by a decisive 13,500 votes. Kent was a well-known broadcaster before entering politics, but “I think his brand has gone down the further away he gets from that fame,” Maggi told The CJN. The riding could be also competitive if Orthodox voters turn out in lower numbers, he noted.
None of the other four ridings are competitive, he added. He predicted that Levitt “will have a bit of a fight, but will win comfortably” by about 10 percentage points in York Centre, despite the fact that 338Canada.com currently lists it as a toss-up.
Maggi said he wouldn’t be surprised if Liberal incumbent Rob Oliphant won 60 per cent of the vote in Don Valley West, even though 338Canada.com has the riding as only “likely” going Liberal.
Mount Royal is “deep (Liberal) red” and Housefather outpolls the party itself, which is “very rare. I don’t expect that one to be competitive whatsoever,” said Maggi.
He also predicted that Liberal Jim Carr, who is Jewish, will hang onto Winnipeg South Centre “handily,” because his “personal brand is so strong.”
Winnipeg-based historian Allan Levine, the author of several Canadian Jewish history books, also expects Carr to be re-elected “because the skill he has shown as a cabinet minister and his personal popularity outweighs issues about (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau’s costume choice of 20 years ago and any other flaw in the PM’s actions.” Holding the election on Shemini Atzeret “will have little or no impact on the vote or Carr’s chances,” Levine said.
Lorne Bozinoff, the president of Forum Research, told The CJN that based on his firm’s initial polling, two ridings, Mount Royal and Toronto–St. Paul’s, “seem to be safe” for the Liberals. Another district that “seems” safe is Thornhill for the Conservatives.
However, York Centre and Eglinton–Lawrence “seem to be in play and potential pickups for the Conservatives.” He too said Jewish under-voting because of Shemini Atzeret “could be decisive” in those ridings.
Maggi said that although he was “disappointed” by the chief electoral officer’s refusal to recommend a date change because “the Jewish community deserves better,” he believes it was “ultimately the correct” decision. He pointed out that “most” people don’t know they can vote any day from the time the election writ is issued.
Holding the election on a Jewish holiday “doesn’t disenfranchise people from voting, just on a certain day,” Maggi argued.
But could the clash sway the results? The notion that Orthodox Jews tend to vote Conservative was given added credence in a 2011 study, which found that religious citizens “were overall more likely to vote Conservative.”
However, in a study released last month based on data from elections from 2004 to 2015, sociology professors Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme of the University of Waterloo and Sam Reimer of Crandall University in New Brunswick found that the overall number of Canadians who say religion is important in their lives has declined, and that their views on issues like same-sex marriage and women working outside the home have become more liberalized (the study examined only Christian denominations).
Those twin shifts could drain Tory support, suggested the study, titled Religion and Grassroots Social Conservatism in Canada.
In past elections, Jewish-Canadians primarily voted Liberal, but “that has not been the case for some time. The Conservatives did quite well with the Jewish vote under Harper and I am guessing they will continue to do so,” Frank Graves, the founder and president of Ekos Research, told The Hill Times recently.
Graves added that the Liberals also do “fairly well” with Jewish voters, but that he is unclear how “a relatively small vote, which does not lean dramatically one way or the other, which may or may not have reduced turnout, will have much impact in October.”