Every election gives us the power to make a difference. Every election is an opportunity to make an impact. This municipal election, you can make both happen.
The past two years have seen British Columbians head to the ballot boxes more than once. A provincial government was elected in 2020, a federal one in 2021 and, now, we’ll be completing the trifecta on Oct. 15, with municipal elections. This makes it the perfect time to sign up to volunteer on the campaign of your choice.
Municipal elections are unique because voters are electing multiple officials, including a mayor, city councilors, school board trustees and, depending on the municipalities or regional districts, a slew of other positions, such as park board commissioners, rural directors and more. These are all opportunities for the Jewish community to build relationships with candidates and incoming elected representatives.
The job of the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC) is to encourage the Jewish and pro-Israel community to get engaged in politics and to facilitate that involvement.
CJPAC does this not by lobbying or advocating but by providing community members with the tools and confidence to build relationships with politicians. Your involvement in politics helps politicians become more familiar with the community’s needs, concerns and goals.
The Jewish community makes up less than one percent of the population in British Columbia. Because it’s so small – demographically speaking – community members need to step up in a big way. Volunteering across campaigns and parties strengthens our community, especially because of how spread out the Jewish population is around the province.
Volunteering gives community members firsthand experience to see what it takes to elect a candidate and, most importantly, plays a valuable role in building lasting relationships with politicians. When you volunteer, you become a key driver of the number one goal of a campaign: “getting out the vote.”
If you want an idea of just how much every vote can matter, look no further than 2018 when the Vancouver mayoral election was decided by only 984 votes – that’s a difference in total votes of less than one percent.
Volunteering is easy and flexible. It can include both in-person and remote tasks, such as making phone calls, door-knocking, delivering and/or putting up signs and so much more. Another crucial volunteering activity is scrutineering, where candidate representatives are trained by the campaign to scrutinize the ballot-counting process.
Political volunteering is geared for all ages. It’s especially great for adults and seniors who have a few hours to spare to enhance the Jewish community, and high school students eager to get their volunteer credits. (By the way, applications for this year’s Generation program for Jewish politically savvy high school students are now being accepted. The deadline for submissions is Oct. 14, at cjpac.ca/generation.)
Learn more by using CJPAC as your political concierge to connect you to the campaign/candidate of your choice and train you to be an election volunteer. Sign up at cjpac.nationbuilder.com/bcmelxn22.
Still need more information? RSVP at cjpac.ca/event/meetmayor to attend the Sept. 29, 6 p.m., Meet Your Next Mayor event at Vancouver Talmud Torah, which CJPAC is co-hosting with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). Community members who attend will get to interact with Vancouver’s mayoral candidates and ask their questions.
As Jews, we are committed to contributing to the greater society. With Rosh Hashanah on the way, CJPAC encourages you to renew your commitment to the community by making an impact on the political world and making cities across the province more welcoming and safer places for all British Columbians.
Contact CJPAC’s B.C. regional director, Kara Mintzberg, at [email protected] or 778-903-1854, to get your volunteering journey started, or for any other inquiries.
Left to right, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, MP Taleeb Noormohamed and MLA George Heyman light the chanukiyah. (photo by Jocelyne Hallé)
The Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver (JCCGV), the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), and the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC) welcomed elected officials representing all levels of government and political parties, as well as other distinguished guests, to light a candle on the first night of Chanukah, Nov. 28.
Member of Parliament Taleeb Noormohamed (Vancouver-Granville) spoke on behalf of the Government of Canada. Member of the Legislative Assembly George Heyman (Vancouver-Fairview) and MLA Melanie Mark (Vancouver-Mount Pleasant) were joined by MLA David Eby (Vancouver-Point Grey), and they presented remarks from the government of British Columbia, while MLA Michael Lee (Vancouver-Langara) spoke on behalf of the Official Opposition. Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart also said a few words.
JCCGV board chair Alvin Wasserman led the ceremony, with Rabbi Stephen Berger and two students from King David High School guiding the candlelighting. Vancouver klezmer band Tzimmes performed classic Chanukah music, with people of all ages singing and clapping along.
The celebration took place under one of the tents of the JCCGV Chanukah Market. A highlight was singing the blessings with each of the guests, many of whom were lighting a chanukiyah for the first time.
The evening was geared around sharing the Chanukah experience with neighbours, bringing light to darkness and sharing Jewish customs. It was also a way to join together with others at the JCCGV, as it continues to plan for its redevelopment. Many of the leaders lighting candles with the Jewish community on Nov. 28 – both at the JCCGV and at the Lubavitch BC chanukiyah lighting in downtown Vancouver – share in the work and support of this community project.
Debbie Setton Tabenkin and the JCCGV programming and leadership teams created the Chanukah Market’s festive space and the JCCGV’s Chanukah programs were financially supported by a Canada Heritage grant. Many volunteers helped CIJA and CJPAC organize the candlelighting ceremony.
Much has been made of the challenges facing Canadians as the country engages in its 44th federal general election while still in the grips of a pandemic. For Jewish voters, the succession of holidays in the weeks leading up to the Sept. 20 election makes scheduling events like community forums with candidates extra confounding.
Nevertheless, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), along with partner agencies, will present a number of events across the country. Here in Metro Vancouver, there will be a virtual town hall on Sept. 14, 4 p.m., co-presented, as is tradition, with SUCCESS, the United Chinese Community Enrichment Services Society. Topics addressed will include racism and hate crimes; seniors’ care; post-pandemic economic recovery; immigrants and refugees; safe and healthy communities; and the sustainability of charitable and nonprofit organizations.
Two days earlier, on Sept. 12, a Richmond-focused virtual town hall will take place at 5 p.m., co-presented by CIJA and the Kehila Society of Richmond.
Tucked in between, on Sept. 13, is a national town hall, presented virtually from Toronto, again hosted by CIJA, this time in partnership with The CJN. All events are accessible from the website cija.ca/election.
Locally on Sept. 13, there is an all-candidates meeting on seniors issues for the ridings of Vancouver Granville and Vancouver South, co-hosted by Jewish Seniors Alliance. To register for it, visit jsalliance.org.
CIJA also has released a federal issues guide, outlining what it considers to be priorities on matters of domestic and foreign policy.
Among the recommendations is a request to supplement the Security Infrastructure Program, which provides funds to enhance security at institutions such as synagogues and community centres, with a program modeled after the Community Security Trust in the United Kingdom, which trains volunteers to provide patrols, situational awareness and threat prevention.
The guide urges amending the criminal code to make Holocaust denial an indictable offence and developing a standardized national social studies curriculum on antisemitism and the Holocaust.
The document, which is downloadable from the CIJA website, calls on the next government to address online hate through education and enforcement, including a social literacy campaign to “sensitize Canadians to the potent role social media plays in bullying, harassment, intimidation, dissemination of hate, and threats.” It calls for reestablishing provisions in the Canadian Human Rights Act to combat hate speech and strengthening Canadian tax laws to prohibit charities from promoting or inciting antisemitism or violent extremism.
The foreign affairs section calls on the government to ensure that Canadian humanitarian aid to Palestinians “goes where it is intended” and to oppose one-sided United Nations resolutions singling out Israel. It also calls on the government to demand that the Palestinian Authority stop the “paid to slay” program that rewards terrorism. It also calls for putting pressure on Iran until it “demonstrates meaningful improvements in comes into full compliance with its international obligations.”
Other CIJA recommendations include:
Implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples “as an important step toward truth and reconciliation.”
Putting pressure on Eastern European countries “that have evaded their responsibility to pass meaningful restitution laws” for Holocaust survivors and their descendants.
Strengthening immigration and refugee policies particularly to support those targeted for their identity, such as Christians and Yazidis in Iraq, LGBTQ2+ people in Chechnya and Iran, and Rohingyas in Myanmar.
Reintroducing the question about religion in the census “to prevent continued underreporting of Jewish Canadians.”
Ending the three-month celibacy requirement for LGBTQ2+ blood donors.
The Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC) is also busy during the campaign.
CJPAC engages “Jewish and pro-Israel Canadians in the democratic process” and helps community members build relationships within the Canadian political arena. Their website, cjpac.ca, has links to all major political parties, as well as links to volunteering and getting involved in campaigns. There is a final volunteer training webinar available at noon Pacific time on Sept. 13.
For information on your riding, where to vote and a list of candidates, go to the Elections Canada website at elections.ca.
Oct. 21, 2019, seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? That was the date of the last Canadian federal election. Since then, it’s been a world of endless uncertainties and instability.
The Jewish community has witnessed levels of antisemitism that haven’t been seen for decades. Hate crime numbers are way up. The aura of anti-Israel sentiment, especially following the conflict earlier this year in Gaza, has created an environment that has many feeling unsafe and anxious. The silence of many within the political sector has been cause for concern. On top of all of this, the havoc of the COVID pandemic is still felt daily.
Let’s be real: people are upset and worried. The past 22 months since the last election have presented incredible challenges to our well-being and shown that nothing is guaranteed. The Canadian Jewish community has demonstrated its resilience and fortitude but there is a lot more to do, especially when it comes to elections. We’ve seen firsthand what an important role the government plays in our lives, especially regarding the pandemic, so it’s vital that we extend our efforts more effectively in the political realm.
The Jewish community makes up less than 1.1% of the population and is concentrated in just a handful of ridings – 10 out of 338. That’s only three percent. Our numbers are continuing to decline. In politics, relationships matter. If we limit ourselves to involvement in only three percent of ridings and three percent of candidates, we are at a major disadvantage when it comes to our community and the things we care about.
To ensure our voices are heard, members of the Jewish community must continue to build relationships and educate MPs in ridings from coast to coast. This starts with political engagement, and it starts with each of us. As Rabbi Tarfon said, “It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.”
The good news is that we have the tools to get engaged so we can work beyond the local ridings where we vote. While the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC) does not engage in or facilitate lobbying and advocacy, we do act as a concierge, helping members of our community to get engaged politically.
Another important factor is that change is inevitable with elections. In 2019, 98 first-time MPs (27%) were elected, 60 of whom were in ridings that flipped seats. A third of those 60 MPs defeated the second-place finisher by less than five percent of the vote. As for this election, at the time we wrote this, 26 incumbents had decided not to run for reelection. Many more ridings will change hands. This means that, no matter which way the election goes, our community will need to build new relationships with new parliamentarians.
We can jumpstart that process. Community members like you can volunteer and acquaint yourselves with candidates from beyond your own riding and across the country. Every campaign is in dire need of volunteers, and even just a few hours can be a huge help. Often just a few more volunteers can make the difference between winning and losing a race. Plus, the appreciation for a volunteer’s work – no matter how big or small – is something that’s not easily forgotten.
There is, of course, one element that’s changed the game with this election: COVID. While it’s still possible to engage in traditional methods of volunteering – door-knocking, handing out literature in the community, putting up lawn signs or working in a polling station – understandably, some are hesitant to participate under pandemic circumstances.
But fear not: there are many physically distanced ways to volunteer, including from your own home. And you don’t have to be politically experienced to do it. All you have to do is raise your hand and show up. CJPAC will connect you to the campaign of your choice.
For those who feel more comfortable with a bit of instruction, CJPAC’s team makes it simple by training you on the basics of campaign volunteering. You can volunteer in your local riding or in one of the other many ridings where a strong Jewish presence is absent. Perhaps that means traveling 20 to 30 minutes away from your home or simply making phone calls from your couch for a candidate in a more remote part of the country.
The first step is to sign up at cjpac.ca/volunteer, and CJPAC will connect you with the campaign or candidate of your choice.
As Jews, we are committed to community service and contributing to the greater society. While it’s been a rough several months, we don’t have to stand alone. It doesn’t matter what party you align with: it’s vital to the health and safety of the Canadian Jewish community to build relationships with all parties. We can accomplish that together by getting engaged.
Jeffrey Feldmanis chair of the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee and Mark Waldman is the executive director of CJPAC. This op-ed was first published on thecjn.ca.
Canadian elections do not generally pivot on issues of foreign affairs. Yet, the split screen image Sunday of Justin Trudeau calling a federal election juxtaposed with images of the Taliban seizing control of Afghanistan was a stark one. Canada left Afghanistan in 2014, having joined an international coalition after 9/11 to attempt to bring the terrorists who found free rein in that country to heel.
The remaining American forces were slated to leave this month, with U.S. military officials candidly acknowledging that their departure would almost certainly result in a Taliban revival. They were wrong only about the timing. Estimates were that it might take the fundamentalist Islamist sect weeks to take back the country. It took mere days.
The implications for Afghan citizens are bleak. Desperate Afghans were hopelessly clinging to U.S. military aircraft taxiing on the runway at Kabul airport. Afghan women will, based on prior experience under the Taliban, become some of the most oppressed in the world. There are also expectations of violent retaliation against anyone and everyone who, in the past two decades, “collaborated” with Western forces. The possible scenarios for Afghan people are horrible to envision.
And the implications go beyond the borders of that country. Optimists, such as they may be on this subject, say that the 20-year Western engagement in Afghanistan has not been for naught. The United States captured Osama Bin Laden and has not experienced another 9/11-type terror attack in that period, though whether Americans are actually safer, with other forms of domestic extremism and violence on the rise, is another question. Regardless, in a region with so much instability and contending factions, the Afghan situation further disrupts an already deeply troubled part of the world.
We may not immediately see the consequences of what is happening halfway around the world, but already domestic politics are being affected by the developments. Canadian military planes are rescuing interpreters and others who assisted our forces when they were in Afghanistan. There are calls for Canada and other Western places of refuge to accept more refugees from what seems destined to become a theocratic dystopia. But we cannot, apparently, save the entirety of the Afghan people and their country from the grips of their oppressors. Western powers held the Taliban at bay for 20 years but understandable domestic pressures to put a halt to “endless wars” inevitably brought us to this point.
This week’s election call comes amid a conflagration much closer to home as well. British Columbia is seeing wildfires and weather events unlike anything we have witnessed before. The hypothetical impacts of the climate emergency have gotten very, very real for Canadians with any sense of cause and effect. Appropriately, opinion polls suggest that Canadians view climate and the environment as a top – if not the top – issue as they ponder for whom to cast their ballots.
One problem with democracy is that those who seek public approval are disinclined to tell voters things they do not want to hear. Canadians (and other earthlings) need to understand that this crisis demands that our leaders impose potentially painful policies that will impact our emissions-producing lifestyles. We say we need to address the climate emergency, but will we be so enthusiastic when it impacts our own pocketbooks and comfortable routines?
One might imagine that scenes of the province on fire might make voters look seriously, finally, at a political party with the climate as its No. 1 priority. But the Green Party of Canada has been in turmoil since the Israel-Hamas conflict last spring. Annamie Paul, the Jewish, Black leader of the party, has been fighting an internal battle against insurgents in her own ranks. We hope that her voice will be heard and that all parties will take this existential issue with utmost seriousness.
The continuing pandemic will play a role in this campaign as well – both as Canadians assess the achievements of our government during the crisis and, more immediately, in the way candidates and campaigns pursue votes while adhering to safety protocols. The parties should be judged on what kind of COVID recovery plan they propose, and how they intend to follow through on supporting the most vulnerable Canadians through this health, economic and social crisis.
Whatever issues are important to you, this is the time to make your voice heard. Consider reaching out to your local candidates. Discuss your concerns with them. Volunteer for or contribute to their campaign if you like what you hear – consider connecting through the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs distils information about various party platforms and policies. Our country and our world face urgent issues. An informed, active electorate is the key to ensuring that our elected officials reflect the concerns that matter most to us.
Left to right: Jewish Federation’s Shelley Rivkin, CJPAC’s Kara Mintzberg and CIJA’s Nico Slobinsky spoke at an online event June 17 on topics including how individuals can help fight antisemitism in Canada. (PR photos)
Representatives from three Jewish communal agencies spoke at an online event June 17 on topics including online hate, adoption of the Working Definition of Antisemitism, strengthening supports for the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, and how individuals can help fight antisemitism in Canada.
Shelley Rivkin, vice-president of local and global engagement at the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, Kara Mintzberg, B.C. regional director for the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC), and Nico Slobinsky, director of the Pacific region of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), spoke about how their agencies are confronting the surge in antisemitism, as well as a range of other topics.
Dafna Silberstein, associate director of the Jewish Federation’s Israel and global engagement department, opened the evening.
“We are here tonight to understand the Canadian political process and learn how you can become more involved, how we can become engaged with a range of issues that matters to you and to our community, and to learn what our community organizations are doing to combat antisemitism,” she said.
Rivkin described Federation’s role as “our community’s primary convener.”
“We are an umbrella organization that represents over 25 organizations locally and an additional number of organizations, approximately 10, in our partnership region [in Israel’s Galil Panhandle] and globally,” said Rivkin.
Federation is the central fundraising arm of the community and runs programs and partners with other agencies to care for the most vulnerable. About one in six Jewish British Columbians lives in poverty, she said, including 13.4% of Jewish children. Federation is also critically involved in supporting Jewish day schools and ensuring continued provincial support for those institutions, she added.
Antisemitic incidents and threats have spiked in recent weeks, coincident with the conflict between Hamas and Israel. Rivkin said the relationships Federation has built with other ethnocultural agencies and communities have proven valuable.
“We have a long history of working side-by-side with other ethnocultural communities,” she said. “These relationships and the supports that we provide are very important so that, when we stand up and speak out on behalf of other ethnocultural organizations, we’re building the bridges and relationships so that they will stand up and speak out on our behalf. Especially this past month, we’ve been very proactive in reaching out to the Indigenous community and the Muslim communities, both of whom faced significant losses over this past month.”
Rivkin also noted Federation’s substantial investment – about $1 million annually – in community security.
“Hate crimes against our community remain one of the highest reported crimes in Canada,” she said. “That was why, in 2016, we made the decision to invest in a director of security that is available and responsive to all of our community organizations, in particular those organizations that have stand-alone facilities.”
Slobinsky explained that CIJA represents hundreds of thousands of voices affiliated with Jewish federations across the country.
“Combating antisemitism, educating Canadians about the central role that Israel plays in Jewish life, strengthening the ties between Canada and Israel and ensuring that Jewish voices are represented in the discussion on a range of issues is some of the long-term work that CIJA does,” he said.
Because of CIJA’s lobbying, he said, the federal government has announced an emergency summit on combating antisemitism, to be led by former justice minister Irwin Cotler.
CIJA also promotes the adoption by governments of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition on Antisemitism, which Slobinsky calls “the gold standard definition for antisemitism” and a vital tool in fighting antisemitism in Canada and around the world.
“For the first time in our history, we have a definition [of antisemitism] that we as a community champion, that the Canadian government has adopted and now Ontario, New Brunswick and Quebec have adopted,” Slobinsky said. “It’s a very useful tool to work with our elected officials, law enforcement, our partners in other communities, when they ask us what is antisemitism, how do you experience antisemitism, how it manifests.… We are defining what our own discrimination, our own oppression, looks like.”
CIJA is also calling on federal and provincial governments to increase supports for existing hate crime teams in British Columbia and to initiate teams to investigate and prosecute hate crimes in jurisdictions where investigation teams do not yet exist.
Of CJPAC, Mintzberg said: “We are all about political engagement.”
“Our focus is on getting our community interested and involved in politics through volunteering and building relationships with elected officials,” she said. CJPAC, she emphasized, is not involved in lobbying or advocacy; that’s CIJA’s job. “We create programs that reflect the mandate of engagement and highlight the importance of getting involved in Canada’s political process.”
Jewish voters have a significant presence in only about 10 of the country’s 338 ridings. Especially during elections, Mintzberg said, CJPAC acts as a “political concierge,” connecting volunteers with candidates. As Canada is currently governed by a minority government, an election could come at any time. She calls on community members to step up now and be prepared when that call comes.
Mintzberg asked that people pledge to volunteer in the next election and participate in a free, one-hour online training course, which can be accessed via cjpac.ca. Slobinsky invited participants to visit cija.ca/takeaction to find ways to mobilize against antisemitism and support other topics on CIJA’s agenda.
Left to right: MP Joyce Murray, MLA Selina Robinson and Vancouver Councilor Sarah Kirby-Yung spoke at a June 3 webinar hosted by the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee. (photos from the internet)
“Intense” was the word used by speakers from all levels of government to describe their experiences during the pandemic emergency.
In a June 3 webinar on Zoom, federal and provincial cabinet ministers and a Vancouver city councilor addressed COVID-19: What’s the New Normal? The event was hosted by the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee.
Joyce Murray, member of Parliament for Vancouver-Quadra, is Canada’s minister of digital government, a role that took on sudden significance when even Parliament began operating virtually and almost all federal civil servants are being asked to work from home.
“It’s been an incredibly intense time,” she said. “I never thought I would work harder than I do as a minister in Ottawa, but I would say these last few months have been much more intense than I expected.”
A million Canadians were able to apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) on the first day, which Murray said illustrates the scope and speed of the government’s electronic mobilization.
Responding to a question from an audience member, she acknowledged that there may be some inequities in the program – some people are earning more not working than a neighbour might earn on the job – but the decision was made to ramp up immediately, knowing that anomalies were likely.
The federal government has not decided when to reopen the U.S. border, Murray said. The current, extended closure ends June 21.
“Our primary focus is the safety of Canadians,” she said. “We’ll be taking the advice of public health officials and thinking about all of the different ramifications and make a decision when the time comes.”
The discussion was moderated by James Moore, a former Conservative MP, who pressed Murray on the unanticipated federal expenditures resulting from the pandemic.
“Fortunately, Canada entered this in a very strong fiscal position compared with most of its G-20 partners,” she responded. “So we were ready and able to respond and there is now approximately $150 billion in direct support to Canadians that has been put on the table. That makes it one of the most ambitious response plans in the world. But our view is that we had fiscal firepower, it was right to use it and it will help our economy emerge more quickly and more strongly when the pandemic allows us to do that safely. Our focus right now is on helping Canadians and getting that right.… We will return to a strong fiscal position when it’s time.”
Selina Robinson, British Columbia’s minister of municipal affairs and housing, noted that the provincial government stepped up with $5 billion in emergency funding.
“It would be very, very hard coming out of this if we had people who were evicted from their homes and couldn’t put food on the table,” said Robinson, who is MLA for Coquitlam-Maillardville. “I think everybody agrees that we needed to invest in people, so that they can continue to feed their families.”
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has warned that no pandemic in history has not had a second wave. Robinson said British Columbia and other jurisdictions are ready for that potential.
“I think we’re far better prepared for any future waves, given the experience we’ve had over the last few months,” she said.
Murray lamented the sharp rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, while Moore warned that U.S. President Donald Trump “is going to run for reelection against China, and not against Joe Biden” – he fears the repercussions for Asian communities in North America as a result.
Robinson said the Jewish community is uniquely placed to be allies to those affected by this phenomenon, as well as to racialized individuals during the parallel upheavals around race, police violence and Black Lives Matter.
“I’m really proud to be part of the Jewish community and knowing that our history as a Jewish community has historically stood up for these values, to make sure that there is space for everyone and for standing up when we see injustice,” she said. “We will continue to do that and I urge everybody who is participating to make sure that you use your voice however and wherever you can.”
Sarah Kirby-Yung, a Vancouver city councilor, also spoke from a personal perspective, noting that her immediate family is of Asian descent.
“I’m incredibly distressed when I hear from members of the Asian community, seniors and vulnerable people particularly, who are afraid to leave their home or go for groceries or are changing their pattern because of who they are,” she said.
Vancouver’s budget has taken a swift kick during the pandemic, but Kirby-Yung rejected the rumour that the city is approaching bankruptcy.
“We are looking at about a $150 to $200 million projected revenue gap for Vancouver through the end of 2020,” she said. “Vancouver is not going bankrupt. We are in reasonable shape, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to be very thoughtful about our spending in our decisions.”
Clockwise from the top left are Amanda Blitz, Kathleen Monk, Amanda Alvaro and Chad Rogers.
Political pundits Amanda Alvaro, Chad Rogers and Kathleen Monk recently participated in an hour-long panel discussion on politics during COVID-19, examining how Canada’s leaders have fared since the start of the pandemic, what still needs to happen and how the coronavirus will shape the nation’s politics in the future. Hosted by the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC), the May 14 webinar was emceed by its general counsel and director of communications, former news anchor Amanda Blitz.
The CBC Power & Politics regulars began, not with partisan jabs, but with kind words for the other sides of the political aisle. Alvaro, who frequently champions Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals, paid a compliment to Premier Doug Ford of Ontario. “He’s really been able to connect well with Canadians. He’s delivered the news in a way people want to hear,” she acknowledged.
Rogers, a Conservative stalwart, praised Minister of Small Business Mary Ng as a person “who has done the hard work with a tremendous amount of humility and ability.”
And NDP proponent Monk lauded the work of the nation’s public servants, whose “yeoman’s efforts” have brought Canadians home from abroad and supplied them with stimulus cheques in a timely fashion.
Nonetheless, it took only a few seconds for Andrew Scheer’s name to appear on Alvaro’s list of those who have not performed well during the crisis. Rogers sprang to the Conservative leader’s defence, countering that it is exceedingly difficult for anyone on the right to watch a government spend as much as the Liberals currently are. “We’ve already allocated more money than we did in World War Two. For a Conservative, this is the worst horror movie ever written,” he asserted. “We are going to have things in this crisis that are going to be horrible missteps.”
Monk, meanwhile, criticized Quebec’s response to the pandemic but commended British Columbia’s. “It is amazing how good public policy can save lives. Never has it been more evident that we are a country of different governments, different territories,” she said.
Nobody on the panel could dispute the economic toll of the pandemic, including double-digit unemployment. Monk shone light on how women have been disproportionately affected, dubbing it a “she-cession,” as a higher ratio of women work in sectors brought down by COVID-19.
Both Alvaro and Rogers gave kudos to the federal government for providing emergency assistance to individuals quickly. However, Rogers claimed the Liberals were using “COVID-19 as a cover to put their boot heel to the throat of the oil and gas industry in Alberta. There is an extreme environmental agenda trying to pivot the Canadian economy into something it isn’t,” he said.
Of course, China was discussed.
“Despite the erosion of China’s image recently, we can’t avoid China,” Alvaro said. “There are many reasons why China can’t be written off, but many reasons why China is making it very difficult for countries to have a positive relationship with them.”
“The Chinese government is a totalitarian cult of death,” Rogers declared. “They could have aided the world by getting a week or a month ahead of the [COVID-19] curve. We should be very mindful every time we speak with them.”
“China has not done itself any favours with their management of the post-crisis phase,” Monk added.
In the midst of the pandemic, the Conservative party leadership race is taking place. All of the panelists steered clear of the Derek Sloan method of populism – which questioned the patriotism of Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer – and saw it more as a contest between Erin O’Toole and Peter MacKay.
All also agreed that it is remarkably challenging to campaign without being able to press the flesh and make stump speeches. However, Alvaro said, while people are at home, politicians do have a captive audience if they “can tap into the digital space that is less time-consuming than going door to door.”
On the topic of leadership, Rogers predicted that Trudeau will, as the crisis subsides, give consideration to his future as leader and ultimately decide it will be time to step down before the next federal election.
“It will give him an honourable exit, after establishing himself as essentially a wartime leader and not having to face a caucus that has lost faith in him,” Rogers said.
As the discussion wrapped up, Monk postulated that a potentially positive outcome from the crisis would be an increase in trade closer to home, i.e., within North America.
Alvaro said there will be many questions to follow: “Much of this will obviously be judged on how the recovery comes about, and how we fix the things we have fundamentally ignored, like long-term-care facilities.”
Rogers appealed to all in attendance to make a charitable donation, as nonprofits have been struggling for funds during the pandemic; a request that was backed by all the panelists.
If you could give just a few hours to build relationships and build goodwill for the Jewish community, would you do it? Now – during an election – is the best possible time to get active and engaged so that you can make a real difference. Voting is a start, but it’s not enough.
Our community makes up less than 1.1% of the population and we’re continuing to shrink. We also tend to live in urban centres. That means we have an impact at the ballot box in just 10 (three percent) of Canada’s 338 ridings. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We need to get engaged so we can work beyond just our local ridings where we vote.
CJPAC, the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee, is a multi-partisan, nonprofit organization. CJPAC’s mandate is to engage our community in the political process and foster active political participation. We work hard to build relationships, especially with candidates in the other 97% of ridings. If we had a repeat of last election, where there was a turnover of at least one-third new members of Parliament, that would be a lot of new relationships to build. We can start the process early by community members volunteering and getting to know the candidates and vice versa.
In the last federal election, 70 races – that’s 20% of all races in Canada – were won or lost by less than a five percent margin. Some races were lost by only 50 votes! A few more volunteers could have made the difference from being just a candidate to becoming an MP.
Hands down, the most effective way to make a difference this election is by volunteering for the candidate or campaign of your choice. Every campaign is hungry for volunteers, and just a small amount of time can be a big help.
You can expect to go door-knocking (possibly with your candidate!), make phone calls to constituents, hand out literature in the community, put up lawn signs or even work in a polling station.
“It’s a few hours of time committed, and it really does make a difference,” said Sharon Fitch, who volunteered on an NDP campaign in Victoria.
Volunteering can be done with the whole family and high school students can even get volunteer credit in some provinces, building their resumés along the way. Jonah Presser was just 15 when he first volunteered on a Conservative campaign in Montreal.
“It’s an excellent networking opportunity, builds confidence and you never know where volunteering could lead you,” he said.
CJPAC’s team makes volunteering easy by training you on the ins and outs of campaign volunteering, connecting you with the campaign of your choice and being there for you throughout the volunteering process. You can volunteer in your local riding or in one of the other 328 ridings where there is no strong Jewish presence. Maybe that means volunteering 20 minutes away from your home or, if you have a cottage, volunteering there. We need to cover a lot of ground to build goodwill and have the biggest impact.
“CJPAC supported connecting me to whatever party I wanted and helped me navigate who to contact,” said Maddy Cooper, who volunteered on a Liberal campaign in Toronto.
Even though Election Day is Shemini Atzeret (Oct. 21), campaigns need help every day of the week and every day of the election period.
You have the power to make a difference for the candidate you support and the opportunity to ensure that they have a connection to the Jewish community. So, take the first step by signing up to volunteer at cjpac.ca/volunteer, and CJPAC will connect you with the campaign or candidate of your choice.
Regardless of how one votes, it is incumbent upon all of us to build relationships with all parties. Our community is not monolithic and that is a great strength, especially when it comes to elections. Let’s put that strength into action.
Don’t wait to get engaged in this election. The outcome is in your hands.
Joseph Papermanis the chair and Mark Waldman is the executive director of the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee. This article originally appeared in the CJN.
A full house came out to the CIJA-SUCCESS townhall Sept. 23, which featured six Vancouver mayoral candidates. (photo from CIJA)
The refracted nature of Vancouver’s civic politics was on full display at a candidates meeting featuring six of the perceived front-running candidates for mayor. The near-implosion of the governing Vision Vancouver party, combined with divisions among erstwhile Non-Partisan Association members, has led to a race with both the left and right sides of the political spectrum divided and struggling to gain traction in a campaign with 21 contenders.
The afternoon event Sept. 23 was co-sponsored by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the multicultural organization SUCCESS, which is rooted in the Chinese-Canadian community. Veteran Vancouver broadcaster Jody Vance handily moderated the occasionally raucous meeting.
Housing affordability topped the list of issues, with Kennedy Stewart, a former NDP member of Parliament for Burnaby-South who resigned that seat to run for Vancouver mayor as an independent, said his plan to attack unaffordability calls for building 85,000 new homes over the next 10 years, including affordable and market rentals.
Ken Sim, an entrepreneur who founded Nurse Next Door and Rosemary Rocksalt Bagels and who is the candidate for the centre-right Non-Partisan Association (NPA), responded by claiming that the construction industry does not have the capacity to meet Stewart’s construction schedule.
Wai Young, a former Conservative member of Parliament for Vancouver South, is running with a new party, called Coalition Vancouver, which was originated by a group of former NPA members who felt betrayed by what they call a lack of democracy in that party.
“Vancouver does not have a supply issue,” Young said about the housing situation. “There are no millionaires wandering around Vancouver that are unable to buy a house or a luxury condo. The issue is that we are not able to keep our young people, our young families, here because they can’t afford to buy a house. We have an affordability issue in Vancouver.”
“If I am mayor, we will have a three percent vacancy rate,” said Shawna Sylvester, who is running as an independent but has roots in Vision Vancouver. The rate today is about zero. She supports more co-ops, cohousing and what she called “gentle densification,” as well as addressing how the housing situation has particular impacts for women, who experience poverty in greater proportions than men.
Partly related to the affordability issue is the topic of Vancouver’s reputation as a place that is welcoming of people from diverse backgrounds.
David Chen, who is running with another new party, ProVancouver, noted that racism is alive and well in the city.
“My parents were first-generation Taiwanese [Canadian],” said Chen. “I was born in St. Paul’s [Hospital] because, at that time, it was the only hospital they were allowed to go to. During this campaign, I heard somebody say to me, ‘Go home.’ Well, I am home.” He added: “We haven’t progressed as much as we should or could.”
The NPA’s Sim echoed the experience and extrapolated it to the Jewish community.
“I’m 47 right now,” said Sim, “and I still remember the hurtful comments that I faced when I was 5 years old. It was tough. I think of what’s going on to our Jewish community right now. We still have a lot of issues. I’m acutely aware of what our Jewish community goes through because, when something happens halfway around the world, our friends in the Jewish community have to worry about their physical safety. That’s terrible. We will have zero tolerance for that, as mayor of Vancouver. We’re going to work with community groups, work with the Jewish community, work with all communities identifying threats to our communities and working on solutions to protect us, to protect our communities, and we will monitor our results.”
Hector Bremner, another former NPA member now leading another new party, YES Vancouver, is the only candidate for mayor currently sitting on Vancouver city council.
“Racism is a symptom, it’s not the disease,” Bremner said. “When do racial tensions flare up, when do they happen? They happen in a time when the people feel that resources are scarce and they feel pressure economically. It’s really a function of tribalism and nativism that occurs when people feel that it’s hard for them to make it. We look for scapegoats.”
Sylvester, who among many other roles is director of the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University, said people need to stand up to extremist voices and actions.
“There are forces in our communities, whether we want to acknowledge them or not, that are trying to divide us,” she said. “What we need to do [is] not be tolerant of any kind of hate crime, not be tolerant of antisemitism.”
Stewart said those who don’t subscribe to Canadian ideas of tolerance should be helped to change their minds.
“Immigration is really one of the best things about being Canadian,” he said. “We travel around the world and we brag about it. Multiculturalism is a Canadian word and it’s something we’ve exported. It’s something we should embrace, and most of us do. Those that don’t, we have to help them understand, change their opinions.”
Accusations of intolerance and implications of racism emerged in the debate.
Young, who had originally sought the NPA mayoral nomination, implied that her supporters, many of whom were from the Chinese community, weren’t welcome in the NPA. This brought a sharp rebuke from Sim.
“Guess what, I’m Chinese,” he said. “Here’s the real issue. When you [say] inflammatory statements like that to win a political agenda, you create divisions in our communities. People don’t like that. You put a wedge. That is a problem and you’ve got to knock it off.”
Sim went on to accuse politicians of stoking already existing embers of intolerance around foreign purchasers of Vancouver real estate.
“For political expediency, what politicians are doing is pointing at groups and blaming groups for problems,” he said. “We have a lot of issues with affordability and there are a lot of things that affect affordability and housing. I’m not saying foreign purchases do not affect housing. But, when we point to it and we blame a group, that starts a slippery slope. That’s what’s dividing our city, our province and our country. I call on everyone here to knock it off, because there are a lot of things that affect affordability – permitting delays, interest rates, the economy – but to point to something for political expediency because it wins votes is dividing people and it’s hurtful.”
The meeting took place in a SUCCESS building in Chinatown, close to the Downtown Eastside. Candidates agreed that more needs to be done to confront the seemingly intractable challenges facing that area of the city.
Young said she had visited a seniors home in Chinatown earlier in the day and was told residents are afraid to go outside.
“They can no longer walk outside of their building,” she said. “That should not happen in our beautiful city. There was a time I remember coming down here to Chinatown when it was vibrant, when it was safe, when you didn’t feel like you couldn’t be on the wrong side of the street here.… This city has gotten dirtier and grittier…. There are needles everywhere, there is defecation everywhere. We are one of the top 10 cities in the world and yet, currently, it’s embarrassing to have your friends come visit.”
She promised to be “John Horgan’s worst enemy,” referring to the B.C. premier, in demanding provincial help to address the issues in the area.
Stewart touted his connections with former NDP member of Parliament Libby Davies, who previously represented the area in Ottawa.
“Last week, I was very proud to stand with Libby Davies in the Downtown Eastside and announce that, as mayor, I would immediately strike an emergency task force to deal with the opioid epidemic and homelessness,” Stewart said. “We cannot have the number of deaths that are happening and the number of overdoses. We can’t have the impacts on the people that are suffering through illness and addiction problems.”
Another perennial issue candidates addressed was transportation and congestion.
“Vancouverites spend 88 hours of your life every year sitting in congestion,” said Young. “That’s like a two-week holiday.”
Sim promised an independent review of congestion in the city.
“The number of cars has not increased in the city in the last 20 years but congestion has,” he said. He blamed a range of factors, including bike lanes, left-hand turns, people running yellow lights and getting stopped by police, pedestrians crossing after the indicator says “don’t walk,” and roads that are closed for construction longer than necessary.
Chen said getting people to switch from cars to transit requires improving the system.
“If you use negative reinforcement, you’re not going to get people to switch,” he said. “It’s not reliable, it’s not convenient, it’s not cheaper, it’s not faster. You [improve] those four items and suddenly people may just switch.”
The would-be mayors mooted the availability of culturally appropriate services, such as seniors care, community security for institutions like synagogues and the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, and unisex washrooms.
During the debate, Stewart repeatedly emphasized that he, Bremner and Young were the only ones with elective experience, a tack that may be motivated by the few polls on the race, which have indicated that Stewart’s toughest opponent is Sim.