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Bob Rae
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

Liberal MP Irwin Cotler
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

Newly elected conservative MP Mark Adler

Newly elected conservative MP Joe Oliver


Irwin Cotler, Mark Adler, and Joe Oliver are the three Jewish Members of Parliament

by Rhonda Spivak, May 4, 2011

In his speech at the Jewish Historical Society’s Sol Kanee Distingushed Lecture on April 28, David Frum referred extensively to his exchange of letters  about Israel in the National Post he had with Bob Rae, Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic, and now a potential contender to be  the next leader of the Liberal party.   

I was in Toronto for the last two days of the election campaign. The night before the election I was a guest at an event in a private home which Bob Rae attended and ended up sitting next to him over dinner.

I told him that his ears would be burning if he had heard that part of David Frum’s speech (which few would deny was very partisan at times) which dealt with Frum’s exchange of letters with Rae. In his speech in Winnipeg, Frum criticized Rae’s letter pretty extensively. He said that the assumption behind Rae’s letter, was that that “there exists in Canada insufficient anti-Israel comment – and that the main reason for this insufficiency is  ‘intimidation’ exercised by Jewish groups.”

In response, Rae made it clear to me that he didn’t think much of what he referred to as Frum’s “terrible letter.” 
The lively exchange of letters between Rae and Frum is set out at the end of my comments below—the letters make for an interesting read which I recommend (more about Frum’s talk in Winnipeg will follow in a further article).
Although many Liberal’s went down to defeat on May 3’s federal election, I had a good hunch that Rae wasn’t going to loose his. Afterall, he had to be feeling pretty confident about his prospects, if he was attending an event at a private home the evening before the election, rather than concentrating on getting his vote out.
I had a sense from being at several events in the Toronto Jewish community that the Jewish vote was shifting to the Conservatives. Several people I met spoke about Harper being a strong supporter of Israel—and I heard this from some who were first time voters.

The night before the election I wasn’t sure what would happen to MP Irwin Cotler in Montreal’ s Mount Royal riding-especially given that  Bob Rae also expressed some concern to me the night before. Cotler was only one of six Quebec Liberals who managed to hold their seats. He beat Conservative challenger Saulie Zajdel, a former city councilor, an Orthodox Jew and B’nai Brith official, by less than 2,300 votes, with only a 41.4 per cent share of the vote.

Even among Torontonian Jews who voted Conservative, there were those I encountered who were hoping that Irwin Cotler, would be “spared” and remain in Parliament. Cotler, who is one of the most outstanding Parliamentarians Canada could ever have, and who has been at the forefront of the fight to hold the Iranian Regime to account and a staunch  defender of Israel, is a Jewish leader of unparalleled accomplishments in my view. I, for one, believe that Cotler’s dogged persistence on the Iran issue helped ensure that Canada enacted the SEMA [ Special Economic Measures Act] which is significant in pursuing the necessary sanctions against Iran. For his work on the issue of Iran alone, Cotler ought to be in Parliament.

It is my hope that Cotler will continue to raise issues regarding Iran.  One of the issues that Cotler has uncovered is that Canada now has four not three trade attaches in Iran.  It is my intention to follow up and ask the Conservative government why this is the case. Readers will be updated on this.

From my perch in Toronto the night before the election, I also suspected that Ignatieff was in trouble in his own riding since my brother in Toronto lives in that riding. My brother mentioned that he had been bombarded near the end of the campaign with “personal calls” from Michael Ignatieff (which were electronic messages)—it was the fact that my brother got multiple calls that made me suspect there was a problem. It sounded like calls of desperation.

I was not surprised that Mark Adler, age 49, a new Jewish MP for the Conservatives won his race against Ken Dryden in York Centre, a riding with a large Jewish constituency. Dryden, a former cabinet minister and Liberal leadership hopeful lost to Adler by nearly 6,400 votes—a solid margin.  York Centre has one of the country’s highest proportion of Jewish residents, at 24%. Adler, a businessman and founder of the Economic Club of Canada, is the first Conservative to win the riding since 1957. Driving through that area the day before the elections it was clear  to me based on the signs posted on lawns that there could be an upset. Adler focused on the issue of the economy and the anxiety surrounding a Liberal-NDP coalition and Harper’s support of Israel.

I met Adler, whose father a Holocaust survivor, when he attended the B’nai Brith Canada dinner here in Winnipeg honouring Janice Filmon last November.

The third newly Jewish MP is Joe Oliver, a lawyer and investment banker who defeated the incumbent Liberal Joe Volpe  in the Eglinton-Lawrence riding in Toronto, which has a 17% Jewish vote. Volpe held the seat since 1988. Last election Oliver tried to unseat Volpe and lost by only about 2000 votes. This time Oliver defeated Volpe by more than 4,000 votes.

In Winnipeg South Centre, we lose Liberal MPAnita Neville, who has served her constituency well for  many years and is to be thanked for her dedicated service.  Newly elected Conservative MP Joyce Bateman defeated Neville in  a close race. Days before David Asper sent a letter to several thousand constituents supporting Bateman, outlining Harper's pro-Israel stances.Gary Bronstone responded to Asper's letter (I have not had a chance to read it since I was out of town). Bateman's campaign was also bolstered several days before the election by the appearance of Senator Linda Frum who campaigned with Bateman.


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.