To My Fellow Canadian Jews: Vote Harper Out

Jews For Harper?

Is there a Jewish way to vote? For those who think that Jewish identity is merely a historical or familial reality, the answer would be no. For those who think that there are certain ethical dispositions and even obligations that follow from Jewish history and culture, the answer is “yes”. I believe that both our spiritual history (as the caretakers of the Torah, the Hebrew Bible) and our cultural history (as experiencing first-hand injustice and oppression as a dangerous “other” in many lands and time periods) suggest, and perhaps mandate, that we “defend the widow and the orphan” (Isaiah 1:17), “love the stranger” (Deuteronomy 10:19) and “pursue justice” (Deuteronomy 16:20). Further these are obligations not only within our own community, but outward facing obligations directed towards the societies we sojourn in. As the Torah says, we are to “seek the good of the land where I have sent you (Jeremiah 29:7)” and “be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6)”. Another ancient voice ignored in the past but heard finally today calls us to guard and serve the earth (Genesis 2:15) as God’s stewards.

In light of the above, it is both of great importance that we vote in the coming election and who we vote for. Some voices in the Jewish community will argue for voting for Harper and the Conservative party, mostly on the grounds that Harper has been a staunch friend of the state of  Israel, an embattled country who many Jews everywhere love deeply. Some also no doubt believe that Harper is authentically good for Canada, in most cases on the ground of his economic policies (and on that see: I would like to argue that in fact it is un-Jewish to vote the Conservatives in for another term, and Jews should do whatever they can to vote him out of office.   

As we survey the current Canadian landscape, both metaphorically and literally, one cannot help but shudder. Canada was recently ranked last on environmental protection. In every area we are failing to protect our land for further generations: we are not curbing carbon pollution nearly enough, we are depleting our forests and oceans, and polluting land, air and sea. Harper has consistently sided with business against the environment, a decision which is tantamount to siding with today’s economy against tomorrow’s children (for discussion see: “Crimes Against Ecology: Is the Harper government guilty? You be the Judge”. Alternatives Journal Nov 2013 To sell the air, water, and earth of your children to pay for today’s wealth and comfort is, to put it mildly, not a Jewish value. 

Harper has reduced funding in the science and the arts, impoverishing Canadian culture and weakening the people we need most to navigate many of today’s most pressing problems: our scientists. Beyond merely reducing funding Harper has in fact actively censored Canada’s scientists (Lindsay Abrams, “World’s researchers to Canada: Stop censoring science!” Salon, Oct 21 2014 In reducing the cultural richness and scientific progress of Canadians Harper is in contradiction with the Jewish valuation of arts and knowledge. 

Harper is often seen as a hawk on the issue of foreign terrorism and tyranny, but is this true? Harper claims to protect Canadians from terrorists, yes. His Bill C-51 and his caution towards immigrants should both be greeted with skepticism, however. Bill C-51 also dangerously increases the governments ability to spy on and control its own citizens, activities Harper has shown a marked fondness for. Harper’s  “immigrant caution” is also yet another way of protecting the “haves” from the “have-nots”. What are his true motives, given his government’s over-all pre-occupation with autocratic power and protecting business interests and the rich (Harper’s main supporters)?

Further eroding the image of Harper as “champion of democracy”, the Harper conservatives have sold weapons to human rights violators who kill their own citizens (like Saudi Arabia), defunded the Canadian military to an incredible extent, and drastically reduced Canadian involvement in UN peacekeeping. Though he may be a staunch friend of Israel’s, he has also been a staunch friend of China, whose human rights record continues to be terrifying. Claims that Harper is a “principled statesman” are laughable, unless the principles in question are “make the rich richer” and “seduce important domestic voting blocs” ( see “Harper’s Foreign Policy: Make The Rich Richer” Yves Engler, Huffpost Blog, May 27 2013). One gets the feeling that Harper favors a “circling the wagons” approach to Canadian foreign policy. Where Canadians were previously known for championing international action to protect the vulnerable and further democracy and human rights Harper has largely dismantled that legacy.

Another major policy area where Harper’s government has failed is with regards to First Nations (see “Chiefs urge aboriginal people to vote against Harper government” Gloria Galloway, Globe and Mail Jul 8 2015). As a recent article in the Globe pointed out, the murder rate on some of our reserves is higher than in Somalia, the suicide rate highest in the world. Some reserves lack running water and proper sanitation- conditions a reporter recently called “medieval”. These issues, as well as the just resolution of treaty violations, are a moral obligation for all Canadians. As Jews it is unacceptable for us to sit idly by while so many human beings struggle to recover from the trauma of colonial genocide and ethnocide in dilapidated shtetls while we pretend that they don’t exist.The Harper government has shown a serious lack of vision in this area, and there is no indication that it is a priority for them- in fact an embarassing number of Conservative candidates have been caught showing attitudes ranging from callousness to outright racism. It’s time to listen to Mrs. Universe (the actual person, Ashley Callingbull- see “Mrs Universe calls for First Nations to vote out Harper” Peter Edwards, Toronto Star Sep 1 2015 Or if not her, then try Blue Rodeo (“Stealing My Dreams”,

In addition to the above the last several days have seen Harper cynically play on Canadians fear and bigotry to put the “niqab controversy” in the limelight, winning more votes and support in the process. He has even gone so far as to create a hotline to report “barbaric cultural practices”. Directly following the Conservatives attack on the niqab, there has been an outbreak of public attacks against Muslim women wearing niqabs ( Shameful, Mr. Harper.  

The Canada the Conservatives have created is a Canada of oil sands, widening divisions between First Nations and other Canadians, censorship, defunded science and arts, and a future for our children bargained away for the sake of today’s wealth (for some) and a superficial prosperity. David Suzuki recently commented that a re-election for Harper would be “a disaster”. As Jews called to care for justice and the stewardship of the earth entrusted to human beings by God, we must help vote out this government.