By MYRON LOVE
WINNIPEG - With the passing of Sidney Spivak last month, the Jewish community here lost a political and community leader who won praise from friend and foe alike for always being a gentleman.
Spivak died at age of 74 from complications related to heart surgery.
He learned the value of community work from his parents, community leaders Rose and Malick. An outstanding student, he earned a Master of Laws degree from Harvard University, after which he returned to Winnipeg to pursue careers in law, business and politics.
Spivak was a lifelong Progressive Conservative. He was first elected to the Manitoba Legislature in 1966 and very quickly found a place around premier Duff Roblin's cabinet table.
He served in senior portfolios under Roblin's short-lived successor, Walter Weir. After the Weir government was defeated in 1969 by the New Democratic Party, Spivak was elected to succeed Weir as leader of the Conservatives in 1971, becoming the first Jewish leader of a major political party in the history of Manitoba. (A short time later, Izzy Asper became leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party, leaving Manitoba with two Jewish opposition party leaders in the legislature; the NDP government also had three senior Jewish cabinet ministers.)
While Spivak was able to improve on the Tories' electoral results in the 1973 election, he was not able to unseat popular NDP premier Ed Schreyer. After two more years as leader of the Opposition, he was unceremoniously ousted as party leader by Sterling Lyon.
Nonetheless, he served in Lyon's cabinet after Lyon won the 1977 election.
In 1979, Spivak quit provincial politics to run for federal Parliament. He lost to Lloyd Axworthy and walked away from the political arena to devote his energies to business ventures and community causes.
In his eulogy, Spivak's son, Harold, said his father "loved the game of politics and knew how to play it without rancour or personal animosity.
He thoroughly enjoyed the intrigue, the strategizing and the intellectual battle."
While there were those who argued that Spivak may have won the 1973 election if he had not have been Jewish, other attribute his loss to Schreyer's popularity at the time. Within the Tory party itself, observers have noted that Spivak's major difficulty was not so much his religious background as that he was an urban "progressive" leader in a caucus composed mainly of "conservative" rural members.
A lifelong Zionist, Spivak served in the late 1980s and early 1990s as chairman of the Canada-Israel Committee. In the Jewish community he also held leadership roles with the Jewish National Fund, B'nai Brith, Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University, Canadian Friends of Bar Ilan University and the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews. In the wider community, he served as a board member of, and raised money for, a variety of cultural, educational and medical institutions.
Spivak is survived by his wife of 47 years, Senator Mira Spivak, and their three children.
Speaking for the family, Harold Spivak said: "Our father always seemed larger than life, like a fictional hero. He was a man of great achievement who generated so much warmth and love. Yet his greatest influence on us comes not from witnessing his public successes but from the strength of his personal qualities, his warmth and generosity, kindness and compassion, his humility and self-effacing nature, his great resilience and grace under pressure and his capacity to weather the ebbs and flows of life with a boundless sense of optimism and hopefulness."