Sept. 1, 2006
Looking for support
MP says the Liberal party is Jews' natural home.
KATHARINE HAMER EDITOR
In a week in which the Liberal party was being taken to task for
the comments made by one of its MPs during a tour of Lebanon, one
of the party's leadership contenders expressed surprise at the notion
that Jewish Liberals may be feeling uncertainty.
"When people are thinking about moving away from the party,
I scratch my head and think, 'Well, what will happen once we get
re-established?' " said Joe Volpe at a breakfast meeting organized
last week by the Canada-Israel Committee.
"What would you do if tomorrow, the Liberals win the election
and subsequent to that, win the following election
what do we do? Where do we go to for representing our position?
Not just our position vis-à-vis Israel, but our position
vis-à-vis the Jewish community's contribution in Canada and
its key role in so many of the institutions that we have come to
take for granted as being Canadian. A just society, Charter of Rights,
equal rights ... virtually everything."
Volpe had been asked by CIC to talk on the subject, Are Jewish Liberals
a Hezbollah Casualty?
"There's a lot of people in the Liberal party who are being
pressured to leave the Liberal party," noted CIC regional director
Adam Carroll in his opening remarks, "whether from internal
dialogue or from pressure from outside and I think that the
question deserves to be raised and that is, why?"
Many Jewish Canadians have expressed concern in recent weeks over
the Liberal party's position on the Israeli-Lebanon conflict. They
include high-profile Liberal backers such as Onex CEO Gerald Schwartz
and his wife, Indigo/ Chapters CEO Heather Reisman, who have publicly
stated their support for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's pro-Israel
stance. At the Israel rally held in Vancouver in July, references
to Harper's position prompted a standing ovation from the crowd.
At the Volpe breakfast, local Liberal and blogger Jonathan Ross
declared, "We became a party of platitudes. We became a party
of these grandiose ideas that lack action. Why are we not taking
risks? People like emphatic decisions [such as those made by Harper]."
And yet, said Volpe, "I was a little intrigued when Adam said,
'How would you like to come and talk to our community about the
state of affairs in the Liberal party and its relationship to the
community and to our sense of where things are going today
and is the Liberal party relevant to us anymore?' " The MP
for Toronto's Eglinton-Lawrence riding was a senior cabinet minister
in Paul Martin's government and is one of 10 candidates running
for the leadership of the Liberal party.
Volpe - in town for the party's annual conference told an
audience of Jewish community leaders that his riding is home to
26,000 Jews who, along with the Italian community, make up 60 per
cent of his constituents.
"They take great pride in having built one of the most important
alliances in Canada, for the purposes of integrating people and
building community," said Volpe. "Politically, even in
the worst of times, [Italians and Jews] have worked together and
as a result, they have returned a Liberal in that area always, except
for one brief period just prior to the 1980 election.
"When people talk to me about the Jewish community and say,
'Well, it feels disaffected from the Liberal party,' I always check
my own pulse, because I live in that community. People over the
course of this last month and a half have really questioned whether
the Liberal party is a relevant institution for the Jewish Canadian
community. I shake my head. And I just wonder how anybody could
doubt for a moment that that could be the case. It can't be anything
Volpe, who is one of only two leadership contenders who have strongly
come out in support of Israel's right to defend itself, said that
position is one to which the Liberal party has always subscribed.
"The Liberal party's position is always going to be based on
painstaking, laborious positions that withstand the test of time,"
he declared. "It isn't going to change because Boris Wrzesnewskyj
[the Liberal MP who toured Lebanon and who, last Wednesday, resigned
his post as the party's foreign affairs critic], Ruby Dhalla [another
MP who toured Lebanon], [fellow Liberal] Denis Coderre and others
are intemperate in their remarks and in their actions. There isn't
a leader right now in the Liberal party. We have an interim leader.
An interim leader is not the leader of the party but the party's
position doesn't change. So do we abandon it all because one amongst
our group makes statements that we would regret?
"I was a little dismayed," he continued, "when some
of those high-profile Jewish Canadian Liberals decided to express
their objection to the Liberal party's perceived position by leaving
the party, at least on this issue. But you know, the only thing
you can do is talk to them once again. We have to be judged by the
sum of our parts, rather than just that one playing in the cinema."
"When you buy the Conservative party, you've got to buy it
all," noted Sen. Jerry Grafstein, a longtime Liberal who was
also present at the breakfast meeting. "You can't buy pieces
of it. And we know the Conservative party, we fought against the
Conservative party. People say, 'Aren't you supporting Mr. Harper?'
I say 'No, I'm not supporting Mr. Harper, what I'm doing is what
people do in a democracy, what Bernie Simpson [a Liberal supporter
in the Jewish community] is doing here in Vancouver: go to your
party [supporters] and persuade [them] that we happen to be correct.
And in the long run, I think we will. And yes, there'll be some
ups and downs ... but to leave the Liberal party; to leave the democratic
process to those who bring these other extreme views, to my mind,
would be an abrogation of responsibility."
Liberal party members within the Vancouver Jewish community who
did not want to be quoted directly said that there was a move to
try and maintain Jewish support for the party. A position paper
on Liberal attitudes towards Jewish issues, in particular those
relating to the Middle East and Israel, has also been distributed
to interim Liberal party leader Bill Graham and all members of the