*You have got to be kidding me…*
OTTAWA — Canada’s largest Jewish organization has asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reject plans to call a federal election for Oct. 14, which is a Jewish holiday.
The Canadian Jewish Congress has written a letter to the Prime Minister, warning that holding an election during Sukkot would make it difficult for some Jews to get to the polls and would rob political parties of workers. Mr. Harper also might suffer a backlash from a group of influential voters he has worked hard to court.
“This [Oct. 14] is the first day of the major Jewish festival of Sukkot, an important holy day on our community’s calendar,” said the letter from CJC chief executive Bernie Farber. “An election on that day would have a very adverse impact on the Jewish electorate, as well as scrutineers, drivers, other campaign and Elections Canada volunteers.”
Sukkot is a seven-day holiday, but tradition restrains the activities of many Jews on the first two days.
“I want to emphasize the importance of that date as a holy day, especially in light of the fact that we did send a note to the Prime Minister’s Office about it,” Mr. Farber said.
Liberal MP Susan Kadis, whose Toronto riding of Thornhill has a large concentration of Jewish voters and is being targeted by the Conservatives, said an Oct. 14 election date “would be inappropriate, insensitive and disenfranchise parts of the Jewish community.”
Faced with a similar problem last year, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty moved the date of the provincial election by six days to avoid a conflict with the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret.
A senior Tory official speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister conceded that Oct. 14 “does present challenges in terms of election timing.
“But we have large-scale advance polls which are available,” the official said. “You can also go to a returning office any day during a writ period to cast a ballot.”
The Prime Minister has not made a decision on when the election will be called, but his officials conceded yesterday that the 14th “is the first big window.”
Moving the date from Oct. 14 could be sticky for the Prime Minister. By law, elections must be held on Mondays, or on Tuesdays in case of a holiday. Since Oct. 13 is Thanksgiving Monday, the election would take place on the 14th, the date of the Jewish holy day.
Postponing the election another week to Monday, Oct. 20th would force Mr. Harper to spend the last three days of the campaign hosting more than 50 world leaders meeting in Quebec for la Francophonie.
Meanwhile, a Tory official said yesterday the party will promise no major programs or tax cuts in a coming campaign and hopes to focus the race on who is best to deal with the economy.
“Love him or hate him, our Prime Minister knows where he stands on the issues and will offer Canadians certainty,” a senior Tory official said.
The official said an election call could come on any day between Tuesday and Sept. 7. However, informed sources pegged Sept. 7 as the most likely date.
The official said the Tories’ plan is to portray their leader as a firm hand in dealing with the country’s economy and attack Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion for his Green Shift plan.
That idea, which Mr. Dion has spent the summer selling to Canadians, would apply a tax on the use of fossil fuels while at the same time cutting income and corporate taxes.
Statistics Canada figures released yesterday show the country has the weakest economy since the 1991 recession. Canada avoided a recession by posting economic growth of 0.3 per cent in the last three months, after a 0.8 per cent decline at an annual rate in the previous quarter.
The numbers were especially bad in the manufacturing and lumber sectors that are so important to the economies of Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, where the Conservatives need to gain seats to form a majority.
But there was no sign that Mr. Harper is retreating from his plan to send Canada to the polls after a one-hour meeting with Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe.
“I have concluded that Mr. Harper … absolutely wants to go to an election,” Mr. Duceppe told reporters.