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Irwin Cotler, the Liberal MP for Mount Royal, speaks during an anti-Semitism conference in Ottawa on Nov. 9, 2010. (Pawel Dwulit/Pawel Dwulit for The Globe and Mail)
Irwin Cotler, the Liberal MP for Mount Royal, speaks during an anti-Semitism conference in Ottawa on Nov. 9, 2010. (Pawel Dwulit/Pawel Dwulit for The Globe and Mail)

Points of Order

Why Tories think they can take Mount Royal Add to ...

In politics, there is calculation and there is conviction, and every now and then there is the happy marriage of the two. Consider, for example, the increasingly close ties between Jewish Canadians and the Conservative Party.

As you know, Kasra Nejatian, the now-departed aide to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, accidently handed the NDP the Tory advertising strategy for winning the votes of ethnic minorities. One page of that package contained a particularly intriguing bit of data.

The page identified 10 “very ethnic” ridings currently held by opposition MPs that the Conservatives are targeting in the next election. Nine of those 10 ridings are ones The Globe had already identified as key constituencies that will need to be watched. One, however, was a shocker. The Conservatives are hoping to take Mount Royal from the Liberals.

Now Mount Royal, in the heart of Montreal, is generally considered the safest Liberal seat in the country. Irwin Cotler, the former justice minister, has held the riding since 1999. His plurality in 2008 was more than 10,000 votes. Fifty-six per cent of those who cast a ballot in 2008 voted Liberal. Its most famous MP was Pierre Trudeau. The last time the Conservatives won the riding was 1935.

So why do the Tories believe Mount Royal is vulnerable? Because 37 per cent of the population is Jewish, and the Conservatives believe that Jewish Canadians are switching their vote from the Liberals to the Conservatives. There is strong evidence they’re right.

In the last century, Canada’s Jewish population was initially attracted to socialist and even communist candidates. As the community became more secure and affluent, that vote migrated to the Liberal Party. The Jewish Canadian vote was thought to be 20 percentage points higher in support of the Liberals than the party’s overall vote.

Jews make up a plurality of voters in the suburban Toronto riding of Thornhill. In 2000, Liberal MP Elinor Caplan garnered 65 per cent of the vote. But that vote declined in each succeeding election until 2008, when Peter Kent took the riding for the Conservatives with 49 per cent of the vote.

Mr. Cotler’s riding looks safe, but in fact his vote has also declined in each of the past four elections. (When Mr. Cotler first took Mount Royal in a by-election in 1999, he won 92 per cent (!) of the vote.) And in Winnipeg South Centre, which also has a large Jewish population, Liberal MP Anita Neville’s plurality has become so thin that the riding is now considered a prime candidate for a switch to the Conservatives.

“Clearly, something is afoot,” Zach Fleisher wrote in the Winnipeg Jewish Review last June.

What’s afoot is Stephen Harper’s four-square support for Israel. How four-square? “Prime Minister Harper has made it quite clear for some time now and has regularly stated that an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada,” Mr. Kent told Shalom Life last year. Actually, this writer can’t find any record of Mr. Harper actually saying that, but we’ll take the Environment Minister’s word for it.

Mr. Harper’s commitment to Israel is more than merely tactical. Since he was a youth, the Prime Minister has admired the country, which he sees as a bastion of democracy surrounded by hostile, autocratic states. The current Israeli government has stated that it has no stronger ally today than Canada.

Clearly, that support is translating into votes. Last time, Thornhill. Next time, Mount Royal and Winnipeg South Centre? The Conservatives clearly believe it can be done. And with only 12 seats separating them from a majority government, every riding counts.

So yes: Mount Royal is now on the list of ridings to watch in the next campaign, thanks to Mr. Harper’s conviction and Conservative calculation. A happy marriage, indeed.

Follow on Twitter: @JohnIbbitson

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