Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose near-decade of power ended Monday in a landslide victory for Liberal challenger Justin Trudeau, was largely seen as an exceptionally loyal friend of the Jewish community, especially as regards his support for the State of Israel. His sound defeat elicited a range of responses from members of Canada’s frum community.
“In addition to his vocal and unwavering support for Israel, people appreciated his steadfastness and strong principles,” said Rabbi Saul Emanuel, director of Montreal’s Jewish community council. He also pointed to Harper administration policies that had helped the community, such as additional grants for security at Jewish institutions and increased family tax credits.
“We certainly lost a friend who stood up for the community,” said Rabbi Emanuel. “We hope to work with the new government to achieve success, but it certainly won’t be what it was.”
Harper’s loss on a communal level was agreed to by many.
“In general, the Canadian people were sick of Harper and wanted somebody new, but the frum community is devastated,” said a Montreal-based journalist, who asked not to be named. She attributed his broad support in the Jewish community not only to his support of Israel, but of Jewish communities throughout the world. “When the four Jews were killed in Paris, he was one of the first to speak out about it, and when we had a reception for him here in Montreal, his appreciation for the community was so real and palpable-which, is strange because his is not a warm person at all.”
In terms of attitudes towards the new government, the journalist said, “People are sitting back and waiting to see where the chips fall … [Trudeau] is still very green.”
“The term ohev Yisrael definitely applied to him,” said Chaya Eigner of Montreal about Harper. “There was no other Western country to express such strong support for Israel. We knew he was going to lose, but a lot of Jews voted for him just out of hakaras hatov.”
Mrs. Eigner however, had mixed feelings as to what she thought a Trudeau government would mean for the community. “I do not necessarily think that he will be bad,” she said, adding that his party’s more liberal policies on issues such as immigration and support of multi-culturalism could be good for Jews, who are also “a visible minority.”
“Those that rely on government programs will be helped, but the Liberals do raise taxes typically which is a little scary, as we already pay a lot. I don’t think he will be so terrible; mostly people just wanted a change.”
While many saw the community’s preference for Harper as being mainly connected to Israel policies, some pointed out more domestic concerns with the incoming Liberal government.
“It’s not just about Israel,” said one Toronto mother, who asked not to be named. “On moral issues [Trudeau] is certainly not the frum community’s choice candidate, he’s a real liberal.” She also expressed concern that the incoming Liberal party’s pledges to expand government programs would place Canada back into debt, something that Harper had fought hard to avoid.
Montreal askan Mayer Fieg was largely optimistic, saying that while Harper’s policies on Israel were certainly welcome, that on local community issues, his government was often difficult to work with.
“When it came to immigration, they took a very hard stance … on Russians they totally closed the door,” he said adding that even temporary accommodations for foreign visitors were often difficult to arrange. Feig said that in his experience, Liberal governments were more responsive to the efforts of askanim to make headway on more local domestic issues.
“Our role in this election was simply to get out the vote. Even so, we received a lot of community concerns post election regarding the incoming Liberal government,” said Moshe Sigler of the Toronto-based advocacy organization, Gesher Canada. He said that, in addition to policy as regards Israel, Trudeau’s stance on accepting Syrian refugees and the possible risks of that community becoming radicalized were of concern to many.
However, in terms of local issues, Sigler was optimistic saying, “I don’t see any problem with day to day matters in Canada. We know and have positive relationships with members of the new Liberal government and expect to continue to work with them on the issues.”