Israel a key election issue in York Centre

As he goes door to door in the Toronto riding of York Centre, Liberal candidate Ken Dryden admits this is the toughest campaign he's ever been in.

The incumbent and former NHL star has held York Centre since 2004 when he won by more than 11,000 votes. In 2008, his margin of victory slipped to just over 2,000 votes.

With the NDP largely a non-factor in the riding, York Centre is a battle between the Liberals and Conservatives.

York Centre has a large Jewish population and a key issue, Dryden told CBC News, is the two parties' positions on Israel.

"The biggest change that's happened is that at one time, there were two very strong Liberal supporting communities in this riding, one was the Italian community and the other was the Jewish community," he explained to CBC's Steven D'Souza. "The Italian community is still strong for the most part in supporting the Liberals and the Jewish community, many of them have shifted and are supporting the Conservatives."

Standing outside Kiva's Bagels on Steeles Avenue, Howard Cohen is one such voter.

He said Conservative Stephen Harper's consistent backing of Israel has won him over to the Conservative camp.

"We need all the friends we can get and he's the leading supporter of Israel in the western world," said Cohen.

Voters like Cohen have not forgotten Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff's labelling of an Israeli military action in Lebanon as a war crime back in 2006, and he said Dryden could end up paying the price.

"He's on the wrong side this time," Cohen said.

Conservative candidate Mark Adler is hoping to capitalize on that sentiment.

"When I go door to door in the Jewish area, people are totally aware of the Harper record on Israel and the previous Liberal administration's record on Israel," he said.

"The Jewish community is aware of Michael Ignatieff's comments with respect to Israel, claiming that Israel has committed war crimes in Lebanon," said Adler.

Still, Dryden points out that Israel isn't the only issue among voters in York Centre.

"This is a big riding," said Dryden. "There are lots of voters from different backgrounds with different things on their minds."

Just as important as Israel, will be voter turnout, Dryden said.

"In the last election, national voter turnout was 60 per cent and it was even lower here," he said.

Even Adler didn't list Israel as the top issue among voters.

"People are talking about one thing, and it's the economy. And number two is why we're into this completely unnecessary election," he told CBC News.