The following is a column I filed for the Jewish Tribune Newspaper last week. It prompted a call from at least one high ranking Liberal who wanted to let me know that Premier Jean Charest is doing a stellar job and will certainly be re-elected. I beg to differ. However, there are a few wild cards: PQ leader Pauline Marois is not very popular; the ADQ is gaining steam; former cabinet minister Francois Legault might start his own party or join the ADQ and most worrisome, Amir Khadir is the most popular politician in Quebec. Charest could conceivably come up the middle with a minority government.
Here is the column.
In about two years time Quebecers will go the polls and unless Premier Jean Charest resigns and his party finds a new charismatic leader, the Liberals will likely be booted out of office. For federalists, the best case scenario would be a minority government. That could be a frightening prospect for the Jewish community here given the presence of one Amir Khadir.
Khadir is the sole member of the hardline separatist Québec solidaire, representing the swing Montreal riding of Mercier. A physician specializing in microbiology and infectious diseases, there is no questioning his educational credentials. According to a recent Léger Marketing poll, he is in fact the most popular politician in Quebec. At 45 percent, he has the highest approval rating.
Charest, now in his third mandate, has simply lost the trust and respect of Quebecers. His party has been mired in scandal and he just does not seem to read the signs that it is time to go. He benefits from the fact that Parti Québecois leader Pauline Marois is not highly regarded by the electorate either. This is where the potential minority government comes in. The Action démocratique du Québec, considered dead after the last election, are showing signs of life under new leader Gerard Deltell. Former PQ cabinet minister Francois Légault is making waves about launching a new party minus the sovereignty plank. Then there is Eric Duhaime, founder of the Réseau Liberté-Québec (RLQ) — the Quebec Freedom Network. While he and five other founders insist they’re not building a new party, rather promoting values they believe are sorely under-represented here, you could see them on the ballot as well.
This brings us back to Khadir and why he is such a threat to the Jewish community. He has been openly critical of Israel, marching in protests against the Jewish State and making troubling statements. But most disturbing is his high profile role in the despicable campaign to boycott a Montreal shoe store in his riding which sells shoes made in Israel.
Since last fall Khadir has been taking part in demonstrations organized by Palestinian and Jewish Unity (PAJU), a Montreal-based human rights group that advocates for the right of Palestinians to live in safety. Khadir has been strongly condemned by all facets of the political community. He was recently a guest on a highly rated French-language Montreal radio show where the host, Benoît Dutrisac, raked him over the coals. “Stop attacking a small boutique that is selling Israeli shoes!” he lectured Khadir.
While the protests may have backfired, bringing a lot of new customers to the store and politicians from different stripes, what’s troubling is that Quebecers still seem to consider him their most popular elected official. What happens if his party wins a number of seats in the next election and he holds the balance of power in a PQ government? With a potential slew of parties in the next race, this is a distinct possibility.
Perhaps the Liberals should draft Yves Archambault, the owner of the show store called Le Marcheur, to run against Khadir in the next election. This would make a statement. The Israeli –made shoe brand, Beautifeel shoes, accounts for only two percent of his stock. It would have been very easy for him to just drop them from his inventory. He did not.
"I was sickened to see him (Khadir) distributing flyers and stopping people who were coming into the store to tell them they shouldn't support a business that sells Israeli products," Archambault said. "In Quebec we have free enterprise, and as long as it is legal, nobody has the right to tell me what I can and cannot sell in my store.”
In recent weeks three federal Liberal Members of Parliament, Marlene Jennings and Marc Garneau of the Liberals and Steven Blaney of the Tories and three Members of the Quebec National Assembly, Deltell and François Bonnardel from the ADQ, Lawrence Bergman of the Liberals and Martin Lemay of the PQ, have shown up to demonstrate their solidarity with Archambault.
The PQ’s Marois and Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe have both released statements in support of Archambault.
In his column in Le Journal de Montreal, Duhaime called out Khadir for his behavior. « For Amir Khadir, he should do nothing less than apologize to Mr. Archambault and to all Quebecers,” he wrote. “To attack an honest businessman is totally unacceptable. Quebecers have the right to expect more from their most popular politician.”
Last week the leader of Québec solidaire, François David, declared that Khadir’s participation in the shoe store protests was an error and that he would not continue such an activity. However, she took the opportunity to reaffirm her party’s support for the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign against Israel.
If Marois gets elected in two years and needs support to stay in office, let us hope she does not turn to Khadir.