In the 17 months since Anthony Housefather was elected as the Liberal Member of Parliament for the Mount Royal riding, I believe he has exceeded expectations in terms of his performance both within his constituency and in Ottawa.
As an MP he could not be closer to the people who elected him, always present at community events and going the extra mile by having Town Hall meetings throughout the year in different parts of his constituency. Such was the case on March 16 at the Irving Adessky Community Centre in Hampstead.
I served as a city councillor under Anthony for 10 years when he was mayor of Côte Saint-Luc before he moved on to federal politics. He is a born leader and a walking encyclopedia on nearly every dossier he must deal with. Speaking notes are never needed and when asked a question, he is able to respond accurately and immediately.
Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg introduced Anthony, noting that the two first met in 1994. “He came to my door and was campaigning to become the youngest councillor in the Town of Hampstead’s history,” he recalled. “He stayed for about a half hour; he was young, enthusiastic and energetic. He has not changed a bit.”
Steinberg went on to explain how their paths crossed again in 2000 when his wife Doris dragged him into politics to fight against the forced municipal mergers and how they worked together to both battle the forced mergers and then fight for demerger. In 2005 Steinberg was elected mayor of Hampstead and Anthony was elected as mayor of Côte Saint-Luc so they continued to work together. “Anthony is a valuable Member of Parliament because as a former councillor and mayor he stays close to his constituents,” he said.
Steinberg hailed Anthony not only for these Town Halls, but his summits with elected officials in the territories he serves (Côte Saint-Luc, Hampstead, Snowdon, Côte des Neiges and Town of Mount Royal). “Sometimes I vote Liberal, sometimes Conservative,” volunteered Steinberg. “I do not vote NDP. One thing I give the Liberals credit for is that they allow free votes for their MPs. I give Anthony credit for he is not afraid to vote against his party.”
That provided the perfect opening for Anthony to explain his leading role in having a bill passed aimed at preventing genetic discrimination. He did so by working with Toronto MP Rob Oliphant to lobby enough members of his own governing party to ensure that more than 100 Liberal backbenchers joined Conservatives and New Democrats to give final approval to the bill, this despite warnings from Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that it is unconstitutional. Housefather noted that in his opinion the bill was constitutional and that the majority of experts who testified before Parliament agreed that it was indeed constitutional.
The bill is aimed at ensuring that Canadians can get genetic tests to help identify health risks and take preventive measures, without fear that they'll be penalized when it comes to getting a job or life and health insurance. It would make it illegal to require a person to undergo genetic testing, or disclose the results of previous tests, as a condition of signing or continuing an insurance policy or any other contract or agreement. In addition, it would also prohibit anyone from sharing genetic test results without written consent, although there are exceptions for physicians and researchers. This bill has enormous significance for the Jewish community which has a considerable number of genetic mutations such as the BRAC 1 and BRAC2 genes for breast cancer in much higher density than the general population. Having the law adopted was a big priority for Jewish community organizations.
Anthony went on to explain that he has no issues with the federal government referring the question of constitutionality to the Supreme Court.
"Either way, we already knew with statements having been made by the insurance industry that somebody was going to challenge the constitutionality of the law," said Anthony, the Liberal chair of the Justice and Human Rights Committee that refused to amend the bill to suit the government.
“Having the federal government refer the matter directly to the top court "means that we will have an answer from the Supreme Court far faster than if a challenge is started in a lower court by industry or by someone," he said.
Anthony credits his years in municipal politics for providing the experience necessary to work with colleagues to have obtained the necessary votes from his fellow Liberal backbenchers and members of the opposition. “It goes to show that even if you are not in cabinet, you can have power,” he remarked.
Anthony was also proud to talk about how his Justice Committee issued a report recommending the Liberal government revive and expand the Court Challenges Program. The Government recently announced it was doing so and accepted most recommendations of the report, expanding the program to allow funding based on challenges to the Official Languages Act as well as additional charter rights.. The new program to fund court challenges will include cases based on freedom of religion, freedom of democratic rights, and right to liberty and security as well as equality and language rights.
Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould said the renewed program will ensure that the government "promotes access to justice for Canadians who need it the most," adding that Canada's justice system will need to continue to evolve. The promise to restore the program, which was scrapped by the Stephen Harper Conservatives in 2006, was included in the 2015 Liberal campaign platform and the mandate letters for Heritage Minister Melanie Joly and Wilson-Raybould.
Anthony’s staff both in Montreal and Ottawa receive a lot of e-mail correspondence. He expressed fear about the rising escalation of bigotry. “I have never seen in my adult life more of a prevalence since the United States elections,” he said. “It has now become socially normal and tolerated.”
Anthony alluded to the Quebec mosque terrorist attack, Montreal and Toronto imams who preached anti-Semitic theories, the “Punch a Zionist” comment by a McGill student leader and the ongoing BDS movement on university campuses – the new form of anti-Semitism.
Anthony also discussed the US-Canada relationship, the Syrian refugee issue, Motion 103, the government’s plan to introduce legislation to legalize cannabis this spring and Trudeau in general. “I think he is doing a very good job,” he said. “A lot of people have the wrong perception of him. He is actually one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.”
Besides Mayor Steinberg, Hampstead Councillors Michael Goldwax, Warren Budning and Leon Elfassy were on hand. I was joined by fellow Côte Saint-Luc Councillor Allan J. Levine.
To reach Anthony`s office call 514-283-0171 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. His constituency office is located at 4770 Kent, Suite 316.