Metroland – York Division
Wed 21 Nov 2007
Section: Thornhill Liberal
Byline: Caroline Grech
Dateline: Article When Thornhill resident Jennifer Shapiro and her husband, Richard Litvack, received a Rosh Hashanah greeting from Prime Minister Stephen Harper last month, they appreciated the gesture. The more they thought about it, however, the couple were left scratching their heads. Not affiliated with any political party and never having given donations to one, the couple began questioning how the Conservative party got their names. What struck the couple is that both their middle names were on both their greetings, which they never use anywhere. The greetings are being described by some as part of a Conservative plan to target ethnic voters, including in ridings such as Thornhill, where 37 per cent of the population is Jewish. "Political parties can try to mobilize a vote however they choose to do it. That’s politics. But when they use information that is unauthorized, then I become concerned," Ms Shapiro said. Ms Shapiro has since filed a complaint with the office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada with the hope it will investigate.
"If Coca-Cola were to send out greetings to Jewish people with well wishes for the holidays, everyone would be up in arms and demanding them to disclose how they got the names. "Why wouldn’t the Prime Minister’s Office be asked to do the same?" Ms Shapiro asked. Thornhill Liberal MP Susan Kadis said calls are still filtering into her office from constituents questioning how their information got into the hands of a political party. She criticized the tactic. "It’s a crass and cynical plan to gain votes. It’s really unbefitting of a prime minister to not work with all Canadians," Ms Kadis said, adding one of her sons also received the greeting. Adding that her constituents were confused about why they received the cards, Ms Kadis admitted she sends out greetings over the holidays, but to those she has forged relationships with. "This isn’t just about the greetings. It’s about how the names and religious affiliations of people got into the hands of the party," Ms Kadis said. Ms Kadis has also filed a request with the privacy commissioner to get to the bottom of how people ended up on a party list. "They (constituents) want answers and they deserve answers," Ms Kadis said, adding even some constituents who are not Jewish received the greetings. Thornhill Conservative candidate Peter Kent believes the whole situation has been blown out of proportion. "I think Ms Kadis has over reacted," Mr. Kent said. "I find it all very amusing. It’s a tempest in a tea cup. Outreach is what the Conservatives should be doing." Adding the party is reaching out to all members of the riding, he said he didn’t see a document specifically targeting ethnic voters at their spring convention. As for how constituents ended up on Conservative party mailing lists, Mr. Kent admitted he did not know. "People get unsolicited mail all the time and who knows where it comes from," Mr. Kent said. Conservative spokesperson Ryan Sparrow said the party compiles its lists in many different ways, but in some cases as with the Jewish community, he said it consulted Jewish telephone books. "Every Jewish community has at least one or two phone books at a minimum," Mr. Sparrow said, adding that in urban centres such as Montreal, there are at least three. Reports also suggest all the major parties keep sophisticated computer databases that identify constituents and potential supporters. Noting that both Canadian Jewish Congress and B’nai Brith supported the effort to send out holiday greetings, Mr. Sparrow said he disagreed the greetings were part of a larger strategy to capture votes from ethnic communities. "The Prime Minister sends out Christmas cards every year. Is it a strategy? No," Mr. Sparrow said. "Susan Kadis also sends out Rosh Hashana cards, so it’s a little hypocritical," Mr. Sparrow said. Adding that the only complaints the party has received with regard to the greetings are from people who wanted one but weren’t on the list. Mr. Sparrow also added the cards are completely non-partisan. Ms Kadis scoffed at the idea of a Jewish telephone book. "I’m not aware of a Jewish directory for the Jewish community," Ms Kadis said.