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 Feldman is 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.