Voters in the federal riding of Mount Royal have sent a Liberal to Parliament in every election since 1940. Yet given Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s strong defence of Israel and the presence of a true star candidate for the Conservatives in former Montreal city councillor Saulie Zajdel, this matchup is already garnering a lot of media attention given the fact 36 percent of the riding’s voters are Jewish.
Cotler won the riding with 55.7 percent of the vote in 2008 against a virtual unknown in Rafael Tzoubari. That is a far cry from the 92 percent majority he gained upon assuming office via a by-election in 1999.Zajdel, an orthodox Jew who served on Montreal city council for 23 years, believes that voters in Mount Royal have an historic opportunity. The riding encompasses the heavily Jewish populated suburbs of Côte Saint-Luc and Hampstead, the multi-ethnic Montreal districts of Snowdon and Côte des Neiges and posh Town of Mount Royal. Like Cotler, Zajdel acknowledged the importance of the Jewish vote but indicated there a wide variety of other cultural communities represented. While Cotler has established strong ties with these groups over the past decade as the sitting MP, Zajdel represented Côte des Neiges on city council so he has the connections as well.
“Clearly, Irwin is a quite a great man,” said Zajdel. “It is too bad I have to run against him. Had he jumped the floor a few years ago and joined the Tories I would not be here today. The truth is, Irwin does not need to be the sitting MP to continue the work he is doing in the area o f human rights.”
The other candidates in the riding are Bialik High School teacher Jeff Itcush of the NDP, Brian Sarwer-Foner of the Green Party and Gabriel Dumas of the Bloc Québecois. Dumas did not return calls to the Jewish Tribune as this story was going to press.
SUPPORT FOR ISRAEL
Zajdel says that when it comes to Israel, the Conservatives and Prime Minister Harper have made it clear where they stand. “We are staunchly behind Israel and the prime minister has been very consistent in his views,” he says. “That is a far cry from the wishy-washy position of the Liberals and Michael Ignatieff. Israel has a right to self defence. Our party has made that clear.”
Harper has gained praise from the Jewish community for his stand on the Jewish State. When Israel, the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack, is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand,” Harper said in a National Post interview.
“I know, by the way, because I have the bruises to show for it, that whether it is at the United Nations, or any other international forum, the easiest thing to do is simply to just get along and go along with this anti-Israeli rhetoric, to pretend it is just about being even-handed, and to excuse oneself with the label of ‘honest broker.’”
“There are, after all, a lot more votes — a lot more — in being anti-Israeli than in taking a stand. But, as long as I am prime minister, whether it is at the UN or the Francophonie or anywhere else, Canada will take that stand, whatever the cost. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because history shows us, and the ideology of the anti-Israeli mob tells us all too well, that those who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are a threat to all of us.”
Cotler takes great exception to suggestions that the Liberal policy has been different and even less supportive than that of the Conservatives towards Israel. This, he says, resulted from some misstatements set forth in what he calls “the false Conservative flyer that targeted the Jewish households in my riding. Let me correct the record and set the record straight. First, it was a Liberal government– and not the Conservatives as the flyer maintained- that first listed Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist entities in 2002. Second, it was I as Minister of Justice who issued a ruling that Hamas could not receive funding as it has been listed as a terrorist organization – and not the Conservatives, who ordered the defunding of Hamas as they claimed. Three, it was the Liberal Party– in support of my initiatives – that has called upon the Conservatives to list the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – the epicentre of Ahmadinejad’s Iran’s domestic and international repression- as a terrorist group which the Conservatives have not yet done though repeatedly asked my me to do so in Parliament. It is the Liberal Party that has called for the bringing of Ahmadinejad to justice something I have repeatedly called on the conservative government to do and which they have not yet done. It was the Liberal Party that first called for comprehensive sanctions against Ahmadinejad’s regime – including the application of the special emergency measures act – which the conservatives belatedly and still insufficiently have responded to. It is the Liberal Opposition that has publicly endorsed both the London Declaration to Combat antisemitism and the Ottawa Protocol to combat antisemitism which the conservative government has yet to do.
“Prime Minister Harper made a wonderful speech at the Ottawa Conference to combat anti-Semitism, which I chaired, and I commended him for it but we need actions to endorse these two declarations so that we can more effectively mobilize the international community to act. We have also proposed and I did so as Minister of Justice that Canada should not acquiesce in, indulge, or validate the annual anti-Israel ritual at the UN which singles Israel out for selective and discriminatory indictment. We believe the process – which still finds the Conservative government either supporting or abstaining in some six anti-Israel resolutions to be prejudicial to Israel and to undermine the integrity of the UN. Accordingly we have proposed that Israel be treated equally before the law and that there be no more than one resolution – as for any other state- rather than the litany of anti-Israel resolutions.”
Cotler notes that he also introduced the first motion with respect to justice for Jewish refugees from Arab countries. “Former Prime Minister Martin, whom I served as Minister of Justice, remains the only Canadian PM – as Sir Martin Gilbert recently in his landmark book – to have called for justice for Jewish refugees from Arab countries. All this is intended to make the point – as Michael Ignatieff has put it but it has gone unnoticed or ignored or misrepresented by the Conservatives – that while there may be differences between the Liberals and Conservatives on matters of policy, that support for Israel is a common one – and it should not be made into a partisan or wedge issue, but one of common cause.”
Sarwer-Foner says that his party does support Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism. “The Green Party has a specific policy on the Israel - Palestinian conflict that calls for peace and diplomacy and an end to violence and retribution,” he said. “It should be clear that continued support and use of military or insurgency strategies will not bring about an end to the conflict. The cycle of violence, loss of life and desecration of human rights must come to an end. The Green Party of Canada believes that any effort aimed only at one side in this conflict will not end the violent responses that exacerbate human suffering. Canada's role in the Middle East should be to reduce tensions, find working solutions and uphold international humanitarian law, not to take sides in this chronic conflict. We must work towards a mutually acceptable compromise that will achieve a lasting peace between, and among, the Israelis and Palestinians.
The Green Party MPs, Sarwer-Foner says, will endorse the recognition of a Palestinian right to statehood within the internationally recognized borders as described in United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, and support a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict that adheres to pre-1967 borders and incorporates an international plan for stimulating economic prosperity in both nations. “We call on both sides to immediately stop the killing of civilians and adhere to international law,” he says.
HATE RELATED ACTIVITY
In regard to hate-related activity in Canada, Zajdel points out that as a former director of B’nai Brith Canada’s Quebec Region he is well aware of the expectations the Jewish community has on government. “I believe our party has already taken a strong position on this and we will continue to do so,” he said.
Adds Itcush: “As someone who has spent most of his professional life in working with the Jewish community, issues surrounding hatred and antisemitism are my issues. As a member of an NDP caucus I would promote and, if necessary, subsidize organizations which promote tolerance in a tangible, operationalized and substantive way. We need to promote a national initiative, in conjunction with provinces, geared towards tolerance education and rapprochement between ethnic and religious communities. We would work with the Jewish community to dispel myths and stereotyping in the broader Quebec and Canadian communities and pressure the RCMP and all police forces in conjunction with the Minister of Public Safety to prosecute those committing antisemitic and hate crimes in general.”
Sarwer-Foner noted that the Green Party is all about social and environmental justice, as well as smart green economics. “We do not have a specific policy on hate related activity, but we are clearly against all forms of injustice, inequality and unfair treatment,” he said. “Clearly hate crimes are intolerable when held up to these standards. Education for peace, healing and tolerance is always a good way to combat hatred by preventing ignorance to fuel hostility towards differences. Embracing the strength of Canada's multi-cultural landscape is a central theme to all our policies on people.”
Cotler points out that he wrote extensively on this issue as a law professor and as Minister of Justice he released the first ever National Justice Initiative Against Hate, which dealt specifically with the need for standardized monitoring, more effective reporting enhancing the definition of hate crime, and establishing dedicated hate crime units for law enforcement purposes.”
Regrettably,” he says, “the Conservative government did not follow up on this. More recently I established the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism (ICCA) whose London Declaration to combat anti-Semitism at our founding conference, and our most recent Ottawa Protocol to combat anitsemitism, both deal with the issue of hate crimes. I would urge the government to endorse our work and that includes the most recent recommendations that we have received from law enforcement officers in the course of our parliamentary inquiry into anti-Semitism.”
THE SAFETY OF JEWISH INSTITUTIONS
In light of the fact Jewish institutions throughout Canada, such as synagogues, community centres, schools and seniors' homes, have been attacked and threatened in recent years, the candidates agree this is a matter which requires attention. Zajdel points to Public Safety Canada's Security Infrastructure Pilot (SIP) Program to assist such communities in acquiring surveillance cameras, alarm systems, fencing and other equipment to protect their places of worship, schools and community centres. It was recently extended. “We have already shown leadership on this issue,” he said. “I have no doubt that our government would look favourably upon improving this process.”
Canada is a diverse and tolerant country. But sadly, some communities are vulnerable to hate-motivated crime, targeted simply because of their race, religion, or culture. Such violent and hateful acts damage property and pose a risk to public safety, and they place entire communities in a state of fear and anxiety.
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Parliament passed legislation to give law enforcement the tools they need to combat terrorism. The law expired after five years and the Conservatives have tried to reinstate key provisions. This includes “investigative hearings” – allowing a judge to order a person to answer questions or produce documents, when there are grounds to believe a terrorism offence has been or will be committed; and “recognizance with conditions” – whereby a person agrees to abide by conditions imposed by a judge, to prevent terrorist activity.
“Unfortunately, the Ignatieff-led Coalition with the NDP and Bloc Québécois has blocked these necessary measures,” the Tory platform states. “But Canadians know that the threat of global terrorism remains, and in the years since 9/11 we have seen that Canada is also vulnerable to the threat of ‘home-grown’ terrorist plots. We will reintroduce our legislation to give law enforcement the tools they need to investigate and prevent acts of terrorism, to protect Canadians and defend our country against such atrocities.
“The federal government’s most solemn responsibility is to protect the security of Canadians and defend our country against attack. Canadians know we are not immune to the threat of terrorism, and they have a comprehensive plan to counter that threat. Among other things, the Harper government has helped ensure that vital intelligence is shared and analyzed comprehensively by Canada’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies; provided increased funding to strengthen air cargo security and to improve operations of the Canadian Air Transportation Security Authority; and developed the Federal Emergency Response Plan, and the National Strategy and Action Plan for Critical Infrastructure.To build on these actions we will develop a new National Counter- Terrorism Strategy outlining relevant laws and procedures and highlighting the means to protect our country from terrorism through effective coordination among Canada’s security agencies, all levels of government, law enforcement, community stakeholders and our international partners.”
Itcush says that as an individual who works within these institutions and has represented employees, “it would be easy for me to say, simply, that hate crimes should be punished more severely. I believe, however, that, there must be a more "omnibus" approach in dealing with these crimes.”
Itcush notes that he would place greater surveillance of institutions at risk. Promote tolerance education in regions where threats have been acute, call for coordinated and cooperative efforts between police forces of different jurisdictions and, if necessary, provide relief for organizations in paying for insurance premiums as the result of losses suffered due to hate-motivated incidents.
Following recent attacks on synagogue and institutions in his own riding, Cotler reiterated his initial proposal – and that of the Liberal Party – for a comprehensive federal government security funding program for at-risk communities, rather than what he calls pilot projects where small-scale announcements have been made by the Conservative government. “We need a comprehensive strategy here and not one that only comes into play at times of elections,” he says.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING FOR SENIORS
In regard to affordable housing for seniors, Zajdel notes that his experience with B’nai Brith in this matter would serve the party well. Itcush notes the NDP is not impressed with the recent allocations for housing in the Tory budget.”I would like to see all levels of government brought together to work to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for all Canadians,” he says. “Investment in social infrastructure makes economic sense and puts Canada on track to meet its national and international commitments to end homelessness.”
The Liberal Party held a national summit on Alzheimer’s and related ailments during the last prorogation of Parliament by the Harper government. ‘Our platform, available on the party website, recognizes what I have heard in my town halls and public consultations among my constituents, and which I relayed to the Conservative Finance Minister,” he says. “Healthcare is a top priority. Indeed I have tabled a comprehensive motion for the protection and enhancement of our healthcare system and including also a specific initiative for a special federal agency to deal with the burgeoning illness of Alzheimer’s. I meet regularly with the leadership of the Cummings Centre for Seniors in my riding on seniors issues and have introduced several recent legislative initiatives in this regard. Indeed as Minister of Justice my first piece of legislation was Bill C-2, a bill for the protection of children and other vulnerable persons.”
Cotler wishes to salute the millions of natural caregivers in Canada. “I am especially proud of the recently unveiled Liberal Family Care Plan – a central pillar of the platform - which promises government support for caregivers who provide the support and dignity to our seniors, and who themselves should be properly supported,” he says. “I recently tabled motions in support of affordable housing and wish to commend B’nai Brith both for their initiatives for affordable housing and Alzheimer’s.”
The candidates will take part in a number of debates, including one co-sponsored by B'nai Brith Canada and the City of Côte Saint-Luc on Thursday evening April 28 at Beth Zion Congregation on Hudson Avenue.