Tories appeal to Jewish community ahead of byelection, allege ‘betrayal’ by Trudeau

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press
Tories appeal to Jewish community ahead of byelection, allege ‘betrayal’ by Trudeau

OTTAWA — The federal Conservatives are asking the Jewish community in a Toronto riding to send Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a message about his “betrayal” by voting for the Tory candidate in an upcoming byelection.

Voters in Toronto—St. Paul’s will pick a new representative on June 24 to replace longtime Liberal cabinet minister Carolyn Bennett, who retired after more than two decades as an MP.

Trudeau has been trailing in all major polls, and insiders are watching to see the kind of impact that carries in what has been a comfortable Liberal seat since the ’90s.

The Conservatives are trying to take advantage of that opening.

Recently, the party circulated a letter received by Jewish households in the riding detailing what it called Trudeau’s “silence” about a rise in “Jew hatred” since the Israel-Hamas war began last fall.

“We can no longer afford leaders who are silent in the face of this existential threat,” reads the letter, signed by deputy leader Melissa Lantsman, who represents a Greater Toronto Area riding and is herself Jewish.

It goes on to accuse Trudeau of “the silence of indifference, the silence of cowardice and the silence of complicity,” and of “driving a wave of antisemitism, putting Jewish communities at risk.”

The party says the Liberals have failed to protect Jewish businesses and community centres from violence, and Trudeau “surrounds himself with MPs who call for an unconditional ceasefire in Gaza.”

Trudeau also “refuses to do the principled thing and support Israel,” it continues.

The letter ends by pointing to the June 24 byelection.

“This is your opportunity to send a message to Justin Trudeau and tell him that you’re outraged by his silence that threatens us all,” it tells voters.

“By voting for common sense Conservative candidate, Don Stewart, you can send Justin Trudeau a message about his betrayal of our Jewish community.”

The letter directs the recipient to scan a QR code on the envelope if they plan on voting Conservative. It leads to a site that asks them to fill out a form titled “Let’s bring it home” with their personal information.

Neither the party nor Poilievre’s office has responded to questions about whether the letter was targeted to Jewish voters — and if so, how — or distributed more widely.

The Liberal party said in a statement on Thursday it was made aware of the letter by its local byelection campaign, which a spokesman says led to “a number of calls from Jewish constituents” from “across the political spectrum.”

Those calling “felt targeted by the Conservative party’s letter and are concerned that they would politicize such an important issue,” said Parker Lund.

“The Liberal government has been very clear that the rise in antisemitism is very concerning and unacceptable, and that it must stop.”

Data from the 2021 census show Toronto—St. Paul’s is the riding with the fifth-largest proportion of Jewish residents in the country, at 15 per cent.

Philippe Fournier of, which publishes a statistical model of electoral projections based on polling, demographics and elections history, suggests the Conservative party’s appeal to the riding’s Jewish community could affect the race if people turn out to vote.

But while making such direct asks in the form of a letter could pay off in the short term, it could also be risky in the longer term, he said.

Fournier pointed out that there are more federal ridings with sizable Muslim populations.

Trudeau has struggled to satisfy both Jewish and Muslim leaders with his government’s nuanced response to the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas militants in southern Israel and the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip.

Poilievre has maintained that Israel has a right to defend itself and places the blame for the mounting death toll of Palestinian civilians on Hamas.

The Conservative leader has accused Trudeau of trying to appeal to both sides of the conflict, which has led to months of protests and counter-protests in cities like Toronto.

Longtime Toronto Liberal MP John McKay, while speaking to reporters last week, acknowledged that people’s feelings about the war in the Middle East are a factor in the byelection race.

“It is competitive,” he said, adding the Israel-Hamas war is among “intersecting issues” that are making the race for the once-safe seat a tough fight.

“But we’re up for the fight.”

Fournier said the fact that the outcome is even a question “says a lot” about the Liberals’ fortunes in what has been a party stronghold for years. Trudeau has consistently swept Toronto seats since coming to power in 2015.

Trudeau and a host of other cabinet ministers have been campaigning in the riding for the past several weeks.

Liberal MP Charles Sousa said this week that people in the riding are concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The United Nations has been sounding the alarm about the rising death toll and risk of starvation for months.

Sousa also said when he’s been out door-knocking, he’s found that many people are surprised to learn a byelection is even happening.

Fournier said the low voter turnout expected for the byelection could be made worse by the fact it is scheduled in the summertime.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 13, 2024.

— With files from Mia Rabson.

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