TORONTO — Though Canada’s unique friendship with Israel and the former’s economic situation are separate issues, both are topics federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver feels very passionate about, he told a crowd at Adath Israel Congregation.
The final guest in the synagogue’s 2014-15 speaker series, Oliver addressed an audience of about 140 people at an early-morning breakfast session June 7.
The talk was moderated by Ira Gluskin, an Adath Israel congregant and co-founder of the wealth management firm Gluskin Sheff and Associates.
Oliver, the Tory MP for Eglinton-Lawrence, who is Jewish and originally from Montreal, emphasized that Israel today has no greater friend than Canada – which he said is “no accident,” but tied to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s unyielding commitment to the country.
“It won’t be this way if Canada comes under new management,” he said, alluding to this fall’s federal election.
Oliver stressed that Canada’s unwavering support for Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and to defend itself “starts with our [prime] minister and ends with our cabinet.”
He referred to John Baird, Canada’s former foreign affairs minister, and to current Defence Minister Jason Kenney, who have both been staunch critics of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment, and who Oliver joked have “visited Israel so often I once asked them if they were going to make aliyah.”
Harper’s sense of justice reflects the best of Canadian values, as demonstrated by the hard line he’s taken on anti-Semitism, as well as on Israel being held internationally to double standards and it being the subject of “obsessive criticism,” Oliver said.
“The Jewish People need this kind of friendship,” he said, noting that Jews have historically endured periods of intense oppression interspersed with periods of freedom.
Seventy years after the Holocaust, Oliver added, Jews are living in a time of “unparalleled freedom,” but a pernicious rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, as well as Islamic radicalism and the nuclear danger posed by Iran suggest that Israel and the Jewish People are extremely vulnerable.
Canada is an enemy of jihadism and will fight it with “the same determination as we’ve fought other threats to the democratic world,” he said, adding that this is why Canada has sent troops to fight ISIS and why the government passed Bill C-51, the so-called anti-terrorism bill.
He criticized the federal Liberal party, saying that its leader, Justin Trudeau, tells Jewish audiences he’s pro-Israel, but “to everyone else, he tells a different story.”
He said that in an interview with an Iranian Canadian newspaper, Trudeau accused the Conservative party of pandering to the Jewish vote.
Switching gears, Oliver said the government’s top economic priority is to create jobs, and he spoke about the government’s promise to balance the budget and provide tax relief to “hard-working Canadian families and businesses.”
He stressed that the Liberals would impose tax hikes on “those it calls wealthy,” and that “contrary to the drumbeat from the opposition parties,” the Conservatives are creating benefits for lower- and middle-income Canadians.
Tying the issues of Israel and the Canadian economy together, he said, “We want our investments to be as strong and muscular as Canada’s foreign policy.”
During a question-and-answer period, Oliver was asked why he thought so many affluent Jews in the United States remain so supportive of President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.
He said it’s partly to do with history and partly with identity.
“The Jewish community has tended to be sympathetic to centre-left causes, because our enemies were historically the church and the state,” he said.
“But things have changed. Economically, the Jewish community is generally in good shape, and the big supporters of Israel tend to be Republican, not Democratic.” n