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March 2010

How the Sports Celebrity Breakfast Began

I had the privilege of serving as co-emcee of the sixth annual Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors (CJCS) Sports Celebrity Breakfast on March 28 at the Gelber Centre. Close to 600 people were on hand, raising about $115,000 for seniors in crisis.

From day one I have served on the organizing committee of this event. It all began with a call from former Côte Saint-Luc City Councillor Harold Greenspon. He was vice-chairman of the CJCS at the time. “I want to start a Sports Celebrity Breakfast,” he said. “Will you help me?”

This call came  at the same time Côte Saint-Lucers had voted to demerge from the City of Montreal. While it was still a year and a half before a vote to elect a reconstituted Côte Saint-Luc council, I asked Harold if he had plans to run.

“Probably not,” said Harold.

“Then I will make you a deal,” I responded. “If  I help you get this breakfast off the ground, will you endorse me as your successor in District 2?”

A deal was made and Harold and I began to plan. We assembled a small committee and set the following spring as our objective. The intent here was to break even and give the community a star studded event they could enjoy.

We sold 400 tickets for the first event and managed to raise a few thousand dollars.  The following fall Harold backed my election bid and I won by a 92 percent margin, in Côte Saint-Luc District 2. While our agreement was only for one year,  I found this experience too enlightening to give it up. We made $10,000 at the second event.  That year we decided to add a “guest of honour” to the agenda in former Canadiens coach Jean Perron, for his role in guiding the Israeli national team. Susequent honourees  were  Alouettes president Larry Smith, Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur, Canadiens president Pierre Boivin and  this year Montreal Impact president Joey Saputo.


When Harold surrendered the chairmanship to Michael Wagen, the  senior vice-president and chief operating officer of Delmar International,  the fundraising aspect exploded.  With invaluable staffer Susan Rozansky coordinating the event and the CJCS Foundation playing a more important  role, we had a marquee “happening” on our hands.  Members of the local sports media began to call me to see if they  could  attend. 

This year’s event included our usual impressive list of guests:  former Habs players  Guy Carbonneau Kirk Muller, Claude Lemieux, Petr Svoboda, Elmer Lach and Phil Goyette;   NHL referee Dave Jackson;  Montreal Alouettes President Larry Smith, accompanied by players Etienne Boulay, Anwar Stewart, Eric Deslauriers,  Diamond Ferri and the Grey Cup; former Montreal Expos pitcher Denis Boucher (now a scout for the New York Yankees) and former Grand Slam Baseball School operator Johnny Elias; Montreal Juniors hockey team owner Farrell Miller, team president Martin Routhier and Israeli-born forward Eliezer Sherbatov;  Canadian Olympic diver Marie-Eve Marleau, wrestler Martine Du  Grenier,  Paralympian in Archery Lyne Tremblay, and cross country skier  Dahsa Gazaiova  (just back from the Vancouver Winter Olympics). 

Among the media attending were  Stu Cowan and Herb Zurkowsky  from The Gazette, Paul Graif from CTV and K103 FM,   Abe Hefter from CJAD, veteran broadcaster Jim Bay,  CKAC’s (and former Alouette)  Gabrielle Grégoire and Andie Bennett, Mitch Melnick and  Noel Butler from THE TEAM 990.
By selling corporate tables, organizing a top-notch raffle and silent auction and  publishing a souvenir program book, Wagen has made this one of the most successful breakfast fundraisers in the community. Having noted lawyer Morden “Cookie” Lazarus as honourary chair provides us with one of the more well connected personalities in town. Cookie has the contacts and our committee benefits.

This year’s event was videoed, including the dramatic opening introductions and a classic interview by Melnick and Bennett with Elmer Lach.  It brought the house down.  We hope to find a way to post it online.
I do want to conclude that the genesis of this breakfast was in Côte Saint-Luc.  The city organized a few of its own such events and so did Beth Zion Congregation. I worked on the latter with Joe Presser.  It provided us with the template for the successful CJCS Golden Age of Sports Celebrity Breakfast. Joe Presser, incidentally, was one of the first people I asked to be on the committee. He is also a constituent of mine in District 2.


CSL Sports Talkshow Host Matthew Ross Shines

From the time it went on the air I have been a huge fan of THE TEAM 990, Montreal’s all-sports radio station. Their programming is excellent. Elliott  Price, Denis Casavant and Shaun Starr are a great wakeup crew. Tony Marinaro is fabulous to listen and knows his hockey better than anybody. Old pro Randy Tieman of CTV Sports has been a solid addition to the regular lineup, but what can we say about Mitch Melnick and his entourage of  Rod Francis, Andie Bennett, Pierre Macguire, Stephen Brunt and a cast of other regulars?


The City of Côte Saint-Luc can take pride in THE TEAM as well. One of our own residents, Matthew Ross, has been hosting the popular Game Points program since the fall of 2004. A marketing and communications professional, Matthew  has been working in media and marketing for over seven years.  Some national  television shows such as TSN’s Off   The Record have recognized his talent and had him as a guest. He has  been published in the National Post and The Montreal Gazette and once reported for The Suburban.  Since March 2008, Matthew has also been operating, a content and communications company, providing copywriting, PR and other media and marketing services.

I urge you to listen to Game Points, which airs   Tuesday nights  from 11p.m.  to 1 a.m.  and Sunday nights from  6 p.m.  to  8 p.m. (during Major  League Baseball season).    Matthew brings esteemed analysts from around North America to the listener, offering a different point of view on the same old stories. Plus, get the full gamut of coverage as he takes you through what's going on in all of the major sports (except soccer!). 

Here is a clip from my recent appearance on Game Points. Please right click and press open to hear:

Game Points InterviewRossMarch2010




Beth Zion looking for a new rabbi again

When Rabbi Sidney Shoham retired  in 2006 from  Beth Zion Congregation in Côte Saint-Luc, after more than 50 years at the pulpit, the very difficult search began for his successor. A year later Rabbi Ira Ebbin was hired. Young, charismatic and full of energy, he made a very favourable impression.

I am saddened to learn that less than three years after his arrival, Rabbi Ebbin (seen below with me soon after his arrival)  is about to leave his post for what must have been an offer he just could not refuse in Long Island, New York (Ohav Shalom in Merrick, NY).  Beth Zion, under the stewardship of executive director Sheldon Weinstein, was just getting back its footing. Despite a large drop in membership, the combination of   Rabbi Ebbin and Weinstein was paying off. New  members were coming aboard. The facility itself underwent somewhat of a facelift, with the main auditorium and the entranceway spruced up very nicely. Blossom  By The Plaza became the official in-house caterer.

Ebbin Prior to  arriving here, Rabbi Ebbin   served as the  spiritual leader of the Young Israel of Stamford, in Connecticut. Previously, he had served as the Assistant Rabbi of Congregation Anshe Sholom in New Rochelle, NY. He was the Immediate Past President of the Board of Rabbis for the UJF of Stamford, New Canaan, and Darien.   He and  his wife Chevi (Shurin) grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and they are blessed with three daughters, Shlomit, Shira Nacha, and Anat Shoshana.  It is understandable that this new offers allows them to return home.

So Beth Zion once again begins the difficult search for a rabbi. Will Rabbi Shoham, still the rabbi emeritus, return on an interim basis? Stay tuned.

Addressing the Senior Social Club

Today I had the opportunity to speak to the ladies of the Côte Saint-Luc Senior Social Club. Heidi Oppen, the new director of B'nai Brith in Quebec, joined me. Her office is right across the hall on the second floor of the Côte Saint-Luc Shopping Centre. The ladies were eager to know more about our planned Intergenerational Centre, the future of the Cavendish Mall and the current controversies involving Bill 104 and religion in Jewish daycares. I left them with a challenge, that being for those who are not familiar with the internet to register at the Eleanor London Côte Saint-Luc Public Library for beginner's courses on how to use the internet and email.

Our provincial government wants religion gone from the daycares

When the province of Quebec introduced a daycare system  offering subsidized spaces at  only $5 a day, spots filled and families  celebrated.  Even though the price rose to $7 a few years, there were no complaints.JPPSCPE1

Many Montreal Jewish day schools, such as the Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools (JPPS) and Beth Rivkah Academy, introduced these daycares and made no secret of the fact that pre-kindergarten students would be getting an early start on their parochial education. That really was never an issue until last week when the Quebec government announced it is banning religious instruction in provincially funded daycare centres.

The opposition Parti Quebecois reasoned that  while Quebec has made its public- school system non-denominational, religion appeared to be slipping back through the public daycare system.  Quebec Family Minister Tony Tomassi was under fire from the PQ last week. He said that his department has launched an investigation and found that there might be problems in about 20 daycare centres.  Ultra-orthodox Jewish and  Islamic operators of subsidized daycares have been offering instruction in their respective religions for years.

"From now on, religious instruction will no longer be accepted in the daycare network subsidized by the Family Department,"  Tomassi said in Quebec City.

Last Thursday the PQ forced a vote on the issue in the National Assembly and the ban on religion passed unanimously, which meant that the Jewish MNA for D’Arcy McGee, Lawrence Bergman,  voted along party lines for a motion which is not popular among his constituents.

B’nai Brith Canada-Quebec Region  expressed concern with the  government’s decision and has been consulting with other faith groups and daycare centres to ascertain what the next step should be following this announcement. 

Allan Adel, national chair of the League for Human Rights, says that cutting funding to religious daycares would discriminate against people who practice a faith, violating the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of religion.

Adel said that banning religion in daycares would create significant confusion between religion and cultural traditions. An example being used is the lighting of the Chanukah menorah and whether that would be allowed.  Similarly, for a Christian daycare, the singing of Christmas carols.

Rabbi Reuben J. Poupko of Congregation Beth Israel Beth Aaron in Côte Saint-Luc  was not holding back his comments. “There remains a bizarre obsession on the part of the Quebec media with Jewish schools,” he remarked. “That being said, when we accept government financial support for institutions which we perceive as being clearly religious in nature then we are treading on dangerous ground. However, for anyone to think that little children in daycare are involved in deep and profound theological discussions in class makes no sense.”

On the JPPS website, a section devoted to their $7 a day daycare, called   the Children’s Centre of JPPS (pictured above), states that the school is committed to the highest standard of education, training students to be leaders in embracing the world and its opportunities from the distinctive perspective of informed and inspired Jewish identity.

“Two of my children went there and it provided them with a solid basis of a Jewish education prior to them entering the mainstream JPPS system,” one parent told the Jewish Tribune. “That is why we chose it.”

The Beth Rivkah website stated that all the "daily activities are driven by the spirit of Torah and the Jewish tradition." That message was no longer visible hours after the Tomassi announcement, replaced by a note that said under construction.

Annie Turcot, a spokesperson  for a coalition of publicly funded daycares on the island of Montreal actually welcomed the decision. "The mission of  (early-childhood education centres) is really to help families integrate into Quebec culture," she said.

As Adel notes, if the government needs to define exactly what the banning of religion in daycares means. “They’ll have to prescribe some regulations,” he said. “It should not be up to a clerk to decide that on a whim.”

Added Rabbi Poupko: “If the government thinks it can draw a clear line between culture and religion, I believe they are mistaken.”

Father John Walsh of St.  John Brébeuf Parish in Montreal feels the time has come for the Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Catholic communities to get together. “The topic would be religion in the public domain,” said Father Walsh.

According to Father Walsh, “there is no such thing as a subsidized Christian daycare centre in Montreal.”  There are some private daycares operated by the  Catholic community, he says, but even they do not teach religion.

Sign the Bill 104 Petition: The Quebec Liberals Should Respect the Supreme Court of Canada Ruling

Here is a press release I sent out from the English Montreal School Board which I urge everyone to read and then go online to sign the petition.

The Central Parents Committee of the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) is urging parents, students, staff and the community at large to support  their online petition related to Bill 104, which the Supreme Court of Canada declared unconstitutional last fall.  This petition calls upon the Quebec government to respect the ruling.

Bill 104 came into force in 2002 and  closed a section in Bill 101, the charter of the French language in Quebec,  that made a child eligible to attend English public school after as little as a year in a non-subsidized private English school. This applied to  siblings and,  eventually,  offspring  as well. The EMSB had more than 27,000 students in its youth sector at the time. That number has since dropped to 22,000, due mainly to Bill 104.

The petition can be accessed at

“It is our fear that the Quebec government will draft  new legislation in the very near future that may very well mirror Bill 104, once again infringing upon our freedom of choice,” states EMSB parent commissioner Angie Bertone, who moved the resolution initiating the petition.  “Enough is enough! The time has come to stand up for our rights: the right  and freedom to choose. Let us protect our freedom of choice and that of generations to come!”

EMSB Chairman Angela Mancini notes that the October 22, 2009 Supreme Court of Canada ruling gave the Quebec National Assembly one year to rewrite the legislation so that it does not contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of Canada. Until such time, their decision is considered suspended and not applicable. The Charter of the French Language (Bill 101), adopted by the National Assembly  in 1977, clearly states its objective of assuring the quality and influence of the French language in Quebec “in a spirit of fairness and open-mindedness, respectful of the institutions of the English-speaking community of Quebec.” The CPC reasons that the  EMSB, as well as other English School Boards across Quebec, have consistently supported this objective of the French Language Charter by going far beyond the minimum requirements for French language instruction set out in Ministry of Education regulations.

Ms. Mancini emphasized that the petition represents a joint effort with the Lester B. Pearson School Board, which also has an online petition. “Our two Central Parents Committees are meeting on the issue,” she said. “I remain in constant touch with their chairman, Marcus Tabachnick.  As the two largest English public school boards in the province I believe it is important that we collaborate on  a matter as important as this.”

Ms. Mancini points out that the EMSB and other English school boards across Quebec have over the years demonstrated their strong commitment to graduate fully bilingual and biliterate students in an effort to better qualify them for the Quebec work force.

The resolution, adds that the charter of the French Language has severely limited access to the public schools of the English-speaking community. Furthermore,  the resolution  wishes to ensure that any proposed amendment to the charter will in no way restrict access to the network of schools of the English-speaking community or threaten its sustainability.  The CPC is also calling for the government to open a dialogue with the English speaking community regarding French language education and its role in the social context of Quebec before proposing any changes to the charter of the French language.

Excellent Gazette Newspaper Story on Delmar International

Robert Cutler and Michael Wagen reside in Hampstead. Paul Cutler, Rob's brother, lives in Westmount. These three very sharp gentlemen run  Delmar International and they are also implicated in many community causes.  I am very proud once again to be working with Wagen on the March 28 Golden Age of Sports Celebrity Breakfast at the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors. He is the event chair.

Please read this fabulous feature on Delmar International  by Mike King  of The Montreal Gazette. It also appeared on the website.

CSL continues to improve communications tools

As the Côte Saint-Luc city councillor responsible for the communications portfolio, I am pleased to report upon a number of initiatives based on a monthly report submitted by Darryl Levine.

In February, Darryl, who is the city's dynamic director of public affairs and communications,  produced four videos for CSL-TV, made aesthetic improvements to, organized the first ever meeting of municipal communicators to discuss best practices, and attended a roundtable discussion about municipal communications in Kansas City.

The video productions and website improvements were produced in house using low-cost, high value tools. In the case of some of the videos, we used a consumer video camera, wireless microphone, existing lighting on the auditorium stage and edited it in a professional way. In the case of the website, we were able to find new ways to display content thanks to new, constantly updated free modules in our content management system, Drupal (pronounced“Droo-pull”). This open-source and free product, used by 500,000 companies, universities and organizations, was selected in October 2009 to run the website in place of a costly, proprietary system. Our department selected it in October 2006—three years earlier—to run the city website.

In short, the department produces outstanding value to the city by delivering high quality communication services in-house for far less than would be possible with external suppliers or expensive systems. We operate smartly by copying best practices of larger organizations. And, sometimes, we are even a few years ahead of other governments.

In February, our videos were viewed 652 times—which doubled the number of all time views since launching in December. As a guiding principle, the department tries to copy or mimic the best practices of large companies or national governments, rather than municipal ones. That is, we try to aim higher  than what people expect from a municipality. For instance, when determining how best to do a Facebook fan page, we studied the US Department of State and NASA, rather than any municipality. In the case of videos, we studied the video messages from the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Then we try to make our videos look as good—or as good as possible given our resources. For instance, the White House videos show the President sitting in beautiful rooms. We cannot replicate the exact look, however we do have at our disposal an auditorium with professional spot lights and back lights so we can produce something that looks professional, but simple. Right now we have two messages from our mayor on CSL TV.

Following a meeting of our Communications committee, which I share, we made changes to the front page and inside pages at The committee recommended that we make the front page more “dynamic” and to include information such as press releases on the front.

Here is how we responded. We embedded a video from CSL-TV at the top centre of the page. This will create a sense of dynamism and also help draw viewers to our videos. We added rounded corners to our front page sections and added new images to sections such as eServices and Calendar. Now  we have started to  reorganize the content on the main section pages, such as Public Documents, to create a more organized, structured, and elegant feel. The changes are ongoing

Recently, our department  the first ever meeting of communications managers (public affairs and marketing) from the cities representing the Association of Suburban Municipalities. The goal was to create more contact between the cities at the level of communication departments, and to share best practices in our field. The next meeting will take place in Westmount in April

A stimulating day on Parliament Hill

My friend Glenn J. Nashen  and I each wear a few hats. I work at the English Montreal School Board as the communications and marketing specialist, serve on Côte Saint-Luc city council and write for a number of newspapers, including  The Suburban, The Jewish Tribune, The Montrealer,  The Jewish  Standard and the Montreal Jewish Magazine. Glenn is the director of public affairs and communications for the Jewish General  Hospital and a city councillor as well in Côte Saint-Luc. He was first elected 20 years ago while  I came aboard in 2005, having covered the city for the local newspaper and then handled public relations assignments for more than two decades.

Glenn and I are naturally very much enamored with the political process – locally, provincially, federally and globally.  During the 11 years I worked for the Canadian Jewish Congress  (CJC),  I frequently went to Ottawa. It was this body’s role to represent the  Jewish community before government.

Last week we spent an enlightening day in Ottawa, starting a round of meetings at 10 a.m. and continuing through nightfall.

CJC meeting

Glenn and I began our day with a trip to the Ottawa National Advocacy Office of  CJC. When  I worked for the organization, the head office was in Montreal.  Now, the major operation emanates out of Toronto. Eric Vernon, Joshua Rotblatt  and Susan Marcus hold the fort in Ottawa, sharing space with the Canada-Israel Committee. (Pictured at the right are Glenn, Joshua, Eric and myself).  Joshua is director of operations and Eric, director of government relations.  Only a few days after I started working at CJC my boss, Jack  Silverstone, informed me that we were headed to Ottawa for a meeting with the federal minister of justice. He told me to let him out of the car at Parliament Hill, park the car at the Chateau Laurier Hotel and go find Eric in the lobby. That marked the beginning of a wonderful friendship between Eric and I, which continues today. I may have left CJC 12 years ago, yet sitting down with Joshua and Eric felt so natural. I am glad we have kept in touch and they perform important duties for the community.

Our first meeting on Parliament Hill was with Justin Trudeau, the Liberal MP for Papineau.  Justin, of course, is the son of our late, great prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. I first met him about six years ago when I invited him to come speak at a school board function. Talk about a man who can keep his audience spellbound.GjJustin

Justin (pictured at the right with Glenn) remains a regular at local schools and not only those in his riding. There is a great demand for his presence  across the country.  He seemed appropriately comfortable in his Confederation Building office.

 “I am abashed to admit how good this feels,” he told us. “Every aspect of this job is so incredibly satisfying.”

How would his father feel if he could see him now? “About a year before my dad died I realized that politics would be a possible path for me one day,” he recalled. “I knew that I needed to talk to him about this or I would regret it. Well, it turned out to be 10 minutes of the most awkward conversation I’d ever had. You see, he had basically already answered this question in the way he raised my brothers and I. ‘Know your values and principles,’ he would always say. He certainly did say that we should not do anything because we thought  it was our appropriate path and with that in mind I know that he was extremely proud  that I became a teacher.”

I personally believe that within the next decade Justin will be the leader of the Federal Liberal Party  and ultimately our prime minister.

We were delighted when the  Federal Minister of Health,  Leona Aglukkaq (below) , agreed to see us.

GJMikeHealthMinister Ms. Aglukkaq was first elected to work for the Nunavummiut in the House of Commons in October 2008 and became the first Inuk to be sworn into the federal cabinet. Prior to entering federal politics she served in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly as the MLA for the district of NATTILIK (communities of Gjoa Haven and Taloyoak). During her time as an MLA, she was elected by her peers to be part of the Executive Council and  first given the responsibility of finance minister and house leader, before becoming the minister of health and social services and the minister for the status of Women. She was absolutely charming. We spoke about the H1N1 crisis and the medical isotope shortage.  The Minister may be making a trip to Montreal in the not too distant to visit some of our local cancer centers.

GJMikeStockwell Did you know that Stockwell Day (right with Glenn and I), the president of the Federal Treasury Board, once lived in Montreal? Long before he became the Albert finance minister, leader of the Canadian Alliance and a trusted federal minister for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Day resided in St. Lambert, N.D.G. and Westmount.  He attended Westmount High School and looks forward to making a return visit there soon. The prime minister initially appointed him the public safety minister, moving him to international trade and now the treasury, where he  has been handed the crucial task of getting our country’s finances back on track.  

DrabkinMike Glenn

Every step of the way these last four years he has been supported by Neil Drabkin, a lawyer and long time Côte Saint-Luc resident, as his chief of staff. Neil has a significant background in the political process, going back to the era of Brian Mulroney as prime minister. At that time Neil  (right, with Glenn and I), was a senior policy advisor and deputy chief of staff to the minister of citizenship. He has also been a Tory candidate on a few occasions.

Via the English Montreal School Board I edit a special needs newspaper called Inspirations ( With this in mind I was particulary anxious to meet two cabinet ministers: Steven Fletcher and Diane Finley.
MikeGJFletcher Fletcher (right, with Glenn and I),  was a young  mining engineer in Manitoba in 1996 when an automobile collision with a moose left him a quadriplegic. He is paralyzed from the neck down. Despite the odds, he returned to university for his MBA and has been elected to Parliament in the last three elections, now serving as the minister of democratic reform. He’s been travelling near Montreal recently to take  French classes.  He and his father David presented us with a copy of  the book The Steven  Fletcher Story: What Do You Do If You Don’t Die? “Have your hankerchief ready,” one of his executive assistants warned us. Fletcher has such a great disposition. What an inspiration he is!  His office is a beehive of activity, with meetings occurring non-stop.

GJMikeDianeFinley Finley  (right, with Glenn and I), is  the minister of human resources and skills development.  The MP for Haldimand-Norfolk in Simcoe, Ontario told us that a number of years ago she spent a summer working at the Lachine plant of Rolls Royce Canada.  Her boss was a gentleman by the name of Doug Finley. The two would eventually become man and wife. Doug is now a Conservative Senator and the party’s national campaign director. Diane Finely shared with us her battle with Graves Disease,  an autoimmune condition  which causes over activity of the thyroid.  For some time she had to wear sunglasses in the House of Commons due to  a hypersensitivity to light. “I had five surgeries and I am fortunate that the last one was successful,” said the minister, who is also responsible for the Federal Office for Disability Issues.

Finley told us that when she was in opposition that the headquarters for the Office for Disability Issues  was ironically  not accessible for  the handicapped. “There were actually two offices at the time,” she said. “Now we have one office across the river in Gatineau . Not only is it accessible, it is  in fact a showcase for accessibility.”

Roger Smith Later in the day, at the posh Rideau Club, we met CTV national reporter Roger Smith (riight). I have always been a big fan of the way he delivers breaking news from the nation’s capital. He was interesting to speak to.

I must say that I came home from these meetings very impressed with the Parliamentarians and their senior staff whom we interacted with. They have all been invited to come visit some of our schools on future visits to Montreal.


For Glenn's take click here to view his website entry