Elected Officials and Public Servants

Project Description


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Photographer: Jean-Marc Carisse©

Herb Gray, flanked by former Prime Ministers Jean Chretien (L) and Paul Martin (R.),
Budget Day, 2000

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Photographer: William Notman Royal BC Museum Corporation, Victoria A-02364o

Henry Nathan, 1871

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David Lewis, 1973

Alex Dworkin Canadian Jewish Archives |
Archives juives canadiennes Alex Dworkin

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Dave Barrett,
Premier of British Columbia, 1975

Photographer: Fred Schiffer
Source: Jewish Museum and Archives of BC

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Credit: Nova Scotia Archives

Myra Freeman, Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, greeting guests
at Government House for New Year’s Day Levee, January 1, 2001.

Elected Officials and Public Servants

When Ezekiel Hart was elected in 1807 to the legislature of Lower Canada (now Quebec), he was barred from office because of his Jewish religion. By 1832, Jews were permitted to swear their own religious oath of office, a reform that took place here several decades before this was allowed in Britain. Over many years, Jews have made enormous contributions to every level of Canadian politics.

In 1871, Henry Nathan from British Columbia, was the first Jew elected to the new Canadian House of Commons, but Jews in federal politics remained rare until after the Second World War. The career of David Croll is instructive. He was a popular Ontario Liberal, known as a social reformer, Mayor of Windsor, elected to the Ontario Legislature and the first Jew to be appointed as a Cabinet Minister in Ontario (1934).  After the Second World War, having served with distinction in the Canadian army, Croll was twice elected to Parliament, but despite his stellar reputation he was never made a federal Cabinet Minister. In 1955, David Croll became the first Jewish senator, where he was a great advocate of anti-poverty programs.

Herb Gray became Canada’s first Jewish federal cabinet minister in 1969, holding many senior portfolios, including serving as Deputy Prime Minister. In 1971, David Lewis was the first Jew to lead a national political party, the NDP. David Barrett of British Columbia became the first Jewish Premier in 1972.

Israel Asper was elected leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party in 1970, while Sidney Spivak was elected Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba in 1971. His wife, Mira Spivak, served in the Senate of Canada from 1986 until 2009. Linda Frum has held a seat in the Senate since 2009. Richard Marceau, a Member of Parliament representing the Bloc Quebecois from 1997 to 2006, authored the autobiography, A Quebec Jew: From Bloc Quebecois MP to Jewish Activist.

Jewish mayors, elected officials and professional civil servants continue to play significant roles across the country. As an example, Myra Freeman became the first female Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia in 2000, after a career in teaching and social activism.

One early and notable appointment was Louis Rasminsky who served as the third Governor of the Bank of Canada (BofC) from 1961 to 1973. His selection by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker signalled a breakthrough in the acceptance of minority groups in leadership roles within Canadian society.

Many other individuals have made major contributions, in both federal and provincial governments. A selection of names from senior federal positions includes: Allan Gotlieb, who served as Canadian ambassador to the United States, 1981 – 1989;  Mel Cappe who was Clerk of the Privy Council Office; Alex Himmelfarb, also Clerk of PCO; Charles (‘Chuck’) Dalfen, Chairman of the CRTC; Robert Rabinovitch, Deputy Minister of Communications and later President of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

Sylvia Ostry was Chief Statistician of Canada from 1975 to 1978, as well as Deputy Minister in several departments. She served with great distinction in Paris as the director of economics and statistics at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Her husband was Bernard Ostry, who also held senior federal positions and became head of TV Ontario in 1985.

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