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Elliot Leven


by Elliot Leven, April 8, 2011

Canadian Jews should not vote for Stephen Harper.  Prime Minister Harper’s federal Conservative Party has made no secret about its efforts to win Canadian Jewish votes.  The centrepiece of this effort has been Harper’s virtual knee-jerk support for Israel, and the actions of Israel’s current government.  This support has made a strong impression on many Canadian Jewish voters.  For some, it is the major issue (or the only issue) in determining how they will vote in the coming May 2 election.

I will be the first to agree that the United Nations and its committees have a sad track record of hypocrisy on Middle Eastern issues.  While the U.N. has obsessively attacked Israel for real and imagined flaws, it has been almost silent on the gross human rights violations of Arab and Muslim countries.  Most western democracies, whether because they rely on Arab oil or for other reasons, have been shamefully silent about this gross hypocrisy.  It is refreshing that the Harper government has been bolder at the United Nations than some of its predecessors.

However, Canadian Jews must never sink to becoming single-issue voters.  Most of the Canadian Jews who I know pride themselves on their intelligence, logic and objectivity.  In a complex, modern democracy, these are indeed qualities to be proud of.

Being a single-issue voter is neither intelligent, logical nor objective.  There are many important political issues other than Israel which Canadian Jewish voters should consider.  For one thing, human rights should always be a crucial issue to Jewish voters.  The Harper Tories have a dismal record on human rights.

During the same-sex marriage debate a few years ago, the Tories were the only party to oppose equal marriage.  Yes, a tiny number of brave Tories broke ranks and supported marriage equality.  And yes, a tiny number of Liberals opposed equal marriage.  But the big picture was crystal clear.  On a major human rights issue, Harper and his Tories struck out.

The marriage debate is now over, but other human rights issues are still in play (although the media generally ignores them).  For example, opposition parties have been struggling for years to add the term “gender identity” to the Canadian Human Rights Act.  The Tories have managed to block this commendable campaign.

(In very simple terms, “gender identity” refers to one’s internal sense of one’s own gender.  A small number of people report that they feel like “men trapped in women’s bodies” or “women trapped in men’s bodies”.  They often obtain gender reassignment surgery to address the problem.  They generally call themselves “transgendered”.  There is no connection between “gender identity” and “sexual orientation”.  Some transgendered people are homosexual and some are heterosexual.)

Most recently, Bill Siksay (an opposition backbencher) managed to get a private member’s bill on “gender identity” through the House of Commons.  There was a free vote on the bill.  Almost all Tories opposed it; almost all Liberals supported it; and all NDP and Bloc members supported it.  The bill was still in the Senate when the government fell, so the bill died on the order paper.  No doubt some opposition MP will bring a new private member’s bill on the subject in the next Parliament, and almost all Tories will oppose it again.  If there is a Tory majority, the bill will be doomed.

here are not many transgendered Jews in Canada, but intelligent Jews must make human rights issues a high priority.  The Tories’ stand on gender identity is absolutely disgraceful and reprehensible.  Jewish voters should care about it.

The Tories cancelled federal funding for the Court Challenges program, which provided funding for minority groups to bring a small number of Charter of Rights cases to court.  Because of the high cost of Charter litigation, this modest program was very important to the promotion of human rights in Canada.  The government later restored a tiny amount of funding for court challenges concerning language rights.  Cancelling Court Challenges funding had nothing to do with the budget. It was a blatantly political act, and a shameful one.  Jewish voters should take it into account on May 2.

A final example is the disturbing role of ideology in Tory decision-making.  Now all parties have ideologies, and no ideology is perfect. However, most parties, including the now-defunct federal Progressive Conservative Party, have (or had) a strong pragmatic streak.  In short, they tend to be ruled by the ideology: “if it works, stick with it”  or “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Time after time, the Harper Tories have chosen dogma, and ignored “what works”. 

One example among many is the Vancouver safe-injection site – a modest program which has prevented many heroine addicts from contracting AIDS, hepatitis and other diseases.  Every doctor who has looked at the program has applauded it.  It works. It saves lives. The Harper government has worked hard to abolish it, claiming that it sends the “wrong message”.  This is dogma, pure and simple.  There aren’t many Jewish Canadian heroine addicts, but Jewish voters should find this disturbing. This is one example among many.

In short, past Canadian governments and prime ministers have had strengths and weaknesses.  But there is something uniquely troubling about Stephen Harper.  His government has a disturbing, mean-spirited, dogmatic, narrow-minded flavour.  Intelligent Jewish voters should think about this along with Israel, when they go to the polls on May 2.

Elliot Leven is a  Winnipeg lawyer.

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