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Joyce Bateman's million-dollar shot

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Ariel Schalit / The Associated Press files
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks at the Knesset, Israel�s parliament in Jerusalem, Monday, Jan. 20.

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Ariel Schalit / The Associated Press files Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks at the Knesset, Israel�s parliament in Jerusalem, Monday, Jan. 20.

'It's the re-election!

This is the million-dollar shot!'

-- Conservative MP Mark Adler

Joyce Bateman was among the more than 200 people who went to Israel on the Harper government visit recently. Nine Conservative MPs and six cabinet ministers were on the junket. There were also 21 rabbis and evangelical ministers.

No Canadian delegation has ever been as big as this one.

No Canadian delegation has ever picked up the tab for non-government officials prior to this. There were 29 people who had a full-ride paid trip to Israel. And how much was that? Well, published reports said the government required media to pay $8,000 per person.

Some might criticize past Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments for other Team Canada trips to various countries. However, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin also included premiers, academics and a host of business leaders who were not necessarily party members or contributors to the party in time and money.

Stephen Harper's visit to Israel had a more partisan slant to it; more Conservatives, supporters and donors than anything Canadians have seen to date.

The objective, according to many, was to secure the 10 seats in Canada where there is a significant Jewish vote.

The Jewish population in Canada is around 350,000 people, about one per cent of the population. There are several communities in Canada where Jewish votes are more concentrated -- such as Adler's riding of York Centre.

The riding of Winnipeg South Centre is another such riding, and Joyce Bateman won it in a close race with Liberal Anita Neville.

It is wrong to think of the Jewish vote as monolithic, but even Neville said some people in the Winnipeg riding changed their vote based on a more pro-Israel stand by the Tories.

It is safe to say the Harper Conservatives now have the most pro-Israel government in Canadian history. However, while the trip was front-page news in Canada, it was inside the cover in Israel.

To be honest, Canada really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things to Israel. As with all things, it is the United States that matters most.

What might have helped Israel would have been Canada on the Security Council of the United Nations. But Canada was rejected -- in part because of the Harper government's pro-Israel policy.

Some Tories will say that doesn't matter, that a principled stand is what is more important. Maybe. The word being used lately is that Canada no longer has "nuance."

A principled stand can and should have nuance. And by that, the thinking is Canada has to take the broad view lest it be taken for granted, ignored or simply lumped in as not really having a unique view on things.

This lack of nuance may help the Conservatives with one group and hurt them with another.

The population of Canadian Muslims has reached one million and now comprises 3.2 per cent of the population. It is possible Harper's policy in Israel might run into resistance with some of the ethnic and religious Muslims in Canada.

Tory "incrementalism" targets ethnic communities with things they favour strongly. The problem is at some point, there will be a conflict that can't be easily smoothed over.

At the moment, Stephen Harper is all in when it comes to Israel, and his party is likely to play that to the max with a very large ad campaign. In the past, it accused Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, a Jew, of being anti-Semitic. It is possible we will see this type of nastiness again with suggestions that anyone other than a Conservative is anti-Jewish and anti-Israel.

It is remarkable it has come to this when you think of how past prime ministers Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien were able to show support for the Northern Ireland peace process from 1985 on without electioneering.

In Winnipeg, it is expected Joyce Bateman will campaign hard and strong mention will be made of her pro-Israel stand. The Liberals have several high-profile people even now testing the waters for the Winnipeg South Centre nomination.

An election is some time a way, but the campaigning is already beginning. Will going to Israel and being pro-Israel be enough for Joyce Bateman to win?

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is already creating concern among Tory candidates who just barely won in the last election. The question is how much the party will ramp things up. Best guess: It is going to be a full-throated election campaign.

-- Follow this blog at johndobbin.blogspot.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2014 0

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