December 9, 2004
26 Kislev, 5765


 

Martin names cabinet

By JANICE ARNOLD
Staff Reporter

Irwin Cotler (above). Below Jack Austin (right) and Jacques Saada.

Not since the Trudeau era some 20 years ago, have three Jews become members of a federal cabinet.

At the swearing-in ceremony of new Prime Minister Paul Martin’s cabinet last Friday, Mount Royal MP Irwin Cotler was named justice minister and attorney-general, while Montreal-area MP Jacques Saada, a francophone, was appointed leader of the government in the House of Commons and minister responsible for democratic reform, and longtime B.C. senator Jacob (Jack) Austin became government leader in the Senate.

Saada, the least known of the three, was born in Tunisia and was first elected to the House of Commons in 1997. Since January 2001, he has been deputy whip of the government. He has also been chair of the Canadian section of the Canada-U.S. Permanent Joint Board on Defence since 1998. He had been parliamentary secretary to former solicitor-general Andy Scott.

Saada, 56, represents Brossard-La Prairie, a mainly francophone riding on the South Shore of Montreal with no more than a couple of dozen Jewish families. He left Tunisia in 1958 for France, where he became a member of the socialist Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair. In the Six Day War in 1967, he volunteered in the Israeli army and then spent a year living on a kibbutz.

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A secular Jew who is married with four children, Saada came to Montreal as a university student in 1969 and studied linguistics. He has been a teacher, school administrator, translator and government consultant. He was president of the federal Liberals’ Quebec wing from 1991 to 1993 and its Quebec director-general before that.

He publicly endorsed Martin’s leadership bid last March.

Saada, who has lived on the South Shore for 34 years, has not been active in the Montreal Jewish community, but has been involved in the small South Shore Jewish Community, which was formed eight years ago.

He was one of 13 Liberal parliamentarians who asked the CRTC to deny a broadcast license to Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite news channel, because of its anti-Israeli content. He was also part of a Canada-Israel Committee-sponsored parliamentary mission to Israel in 2002.

Cotler, 63, is a McGill University law professor with an international reputation as a human rights advocate and Jewish leader. He was first elected in a 1999 by-election with 92 per cent of the vote in Mount Royal, which has the largest proportion of Jews of any riding in the country.

Cotler, who appeared to be a reluctant politician almost from the outset, has been quoted as saying he would not seek re-election after his current term. He clashed early on with former prime minister Jean Chrétien over Canada’s Middle East policies and publicly broke with his government when Canada abstained from a United Nations resolution condemning Israel in the early days of the intifadah.

Cotler’s relationship with Martin, however, has always been friendly. During the 2000 election, Martin held a press conference at Cotler’s campaign office, expressing appreciation that someone of Cotler’s stature had chosen to serve the country.

In the last Parliament, Cotler was chair of the subcommittee on human rights and international development of the standing committee on foreign affairs, and a member of the justice committee. Since 2000, he had been special advisor to the foreign affairs minister on the International Criminal Court, of which he has been a leading proponent.

He also shepherded the War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Act through Parliament.

He was also Canadian chair of the Parliamentarians for Global Action, an international organization, and co-chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, the first ever all-party joint House-Senate human rights caucus.

One of the thorniest issues Cotler will deal with in the justice ministry, should he continue to hold the portfolio after the expected spring election, is same-sex marriages. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a reference on the issue next year. Cotler has told The CJN he is in favour of civil marriage for homosexuals, but believes the Supreme Court’s opinion should guide legislation.

A senator since 1975, Austin, 71, most recently served as a member of the Senate committees on foreign affairs, and internal economy, budgets and administration. A Harvard law graduate, Austin was deputy energy minister in the 1970s and later principal secretary to former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

He served in Trudeau’s cabinet in the early 1980s in several portfolios, and organized three Team Canada economic missions to China in the 1990s for Chrétien.

Married with four children, Saada came to Montreal as a university student in 1969 and studied linguistics. He has been a teacher, school administrator, translator and government consultant. He was president of the federal Liberals’ Quebec wing from 1991 to 1993 and its Quebec director-general before that.

He publicly endorsed Martin’s leadership bid last March.

Saada, who has lived on the South Shore for 34 years, has not been active in the Montreal Jewish community, but has been involved in the small South Shore Jewish Community, which was formed eight years ago.

He was one of 13 Liberal parliamentarians who asked the CRTC to deny a broadcast license to Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite news channel, because of its anti-Israeli content. He was also part of a Canada-Israel Committee-sponsored parliamentary mission to Israel in 2002.

Cotler, 63, is a McGill University law professor with an international reputation as a human rights advocate and Jewish leader. He was first elected in a 1999 by-election with 92 per cent of the vote in Mount Royal, which has the largest proportion of Jews of any riding in the country.

Cotler, who appeared to be a reluctant politician almost from the outset, has been quoted as saying he would not seek re-election after his current term. He clashed early on with former prime minister Jean Chrétien over Canada’s Middle East policies and publicly broke with his government when Canada abstained from a United Nations resolution condemning Israel in the early days of the intifadah.

Cotler’s relationship with Martin, however, has always been friendly. During the 2000 election, Martin held a press conference at Cotler’s campaign office, expressing appreciation that someone of Cotler’s stature had chosen to serve the country.

In the last Parliament, Cotler was chair of the subcommittee on human rights and international development of the standing committee on foreign affairs, and a member of the justice committee. Since 2000, he had been special advisor to the foreign affairs minister on the International Criminal Court, of which he has been a leading proponent.

He also shepherded the War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Act through Parliament.

He was also Canadian chair of the Parliamentarians for Global Action, an international organization, and co-chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, the first ever all-party joint House-Senate human rights caucus.

One of the thorniest issues Cotler will deal with in the justice ministry, should he continue to hold the portfolio after the expected spring election, is same-sex marriages. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a reference on the issue next year. Cotler has told The CJN he is in favour of civil marriage for homosexuals, but believes the Supreme Court’s opinion should guide legislation.

A senator since 1975, Austin, 71, most recently served as a member of the Senate committees on foreign affairs, and internal economy, budgets and administration. A Harvard law graduate, Austin was deputy energy minister in the 1970s and later principal secretary to former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

He served in Trudeau’s cabinet in the early 1980s in several portfolios, and organized three Team Canada economic missions to China in the 1990s for Chrétien.