February 10, 2005
1 Adar I, 5765


Montreal remains faithful to Liberals

Staff Reporter

Jews in Montreal stuck to their traditional Liberal vote, as did most anglophone and ethnic voters.

Mount Royal returned Justice Minister Irwin Cotler to Parliament with a 76 per cent majority, the highest for a Liberal candidate in the country, and the third-highest overall, behind two Conservative candidates in Alberta.

The two other Jewish Liberal incumbents in Quebec, government House leader Jacques Saada and backbencher Raymonde Folco, were re-elected in, respectively, Brossard-La Prairie, on the South Shore, and Laval-Les Iles, north of Montreal.

Cotler not only won all 192 polls, he garnered a majority in each of them, which is an accomplishment, he said, considering there were seven candidates. Nevertheless, his showing was a drop from his 82 per cent majority in the 2000 election.

The turnout in Mount Royal was not available at time of writing. There were anecdotes of Jewish voters not voting because they could not bring themselves to vote Liberal or to vote against Cotler.

Although it takes in such largely Jewish areas as Cote St. Luc and Hampstead, Mount Royal is not as Jewish as it used to be. According to the 2001 census, 36 per cent of the population is Jewish, but Cotler believes it is more like 30 to 35 per cent today.

Assessing his victory, Cotler stressed the multicultural nature of the riding and the support he received from all communities. He calls it a “rainbow coalition.” (Mount Royal has the seventh-highest number of Muslims among Quebec ridings, representing 5.5 per cent of the population.)

Despite having a safe seat, Cotler said he campaigned “flat out… I think it is my most satisfying victory because the wind was blowing the other way [against the Liberals] in the province.”

Cotler said he met “head-on” criticism from Jews about the Liberal government’s record on Israel “When I met Jewish groups, I didn’t wait for the issue to be raised. Some of that criticism was based on incorrect information,” he said, referring to an advertisement on the issue in The CJN.

“It spoke of Israel receiving zero dollars in aid from Canada and the Palestinians $250 million, but didn’t say that Israel is ineligible, as a developed country, for aid and that the money to the Palestinians is humanitarian assistance.”

As for Canada’s voting record at the United Nations (UN), Cotler said an “empirical study” shows that under the previous Progressive Conservative government “it was even worse” in voting for or abstaining from resolutions denouncing Israel.

Over the Liberals’ 11 years in power, “I believe that it is being incrementally improved… And we are committed to the larger issue of UN reform to ensure no state is singled out.”

He defended Liberal policy of supporting both the security for Israel and the “legitimate right of the Palestinians to a democratic state… There is no contradiction in that.”

Asked if he expects to be re-appointed to cabinet, Cotler, 64, said if Paul Martin calls, he will gladly serve. “I was very happy being justice minister and attorney-general. For a human-rights lawyer, it was a kind of dream.”

Folco, 64, who was first elected in 1997 (her riding was previously called Laval West), said she has cabinet aspirations. “I was the only Liberal elected north of the Island of Montreal. There is always hope,” she said, “but I don’t like to tempt the devil.”

Laval-Les Iles takes in a part of Chomedey, where the great majority of the area’s Jews live. (The 2001 census found 3,760 Jews lived in the Chomedey district.)

Folco said she had the support of much of the Jewish community in the heated battle she fought to keep the Liberal nomination, which she won in March. She was challenged by Barbara Mergl, a member of the riding’s Liberal association executive. In February, Folco filed a complaint with the RCMP that her phone had been tapped.

Folco took 48 per cent of the vote. Runner-up Micael Poirier, a CEGEP student with no political experience, finished more than 5,000 votes behind Folco. Laval-Les Iles is about 60 per cent francophone, and has a significant ethnic population, especially Greek.

Because of the nomination battle, Folco said she was, in effect, campaigning for almost nine months and she believes that made the difference against rising support for the Bloc Québécois.

Saada, 57, who was also first elected in 1997, managed to hang on to Brossard-La Prairie on Montreal’s South Shore by a 2,500-vote margin over the Bloc’s Marcel Lussier. The riding is about 70 per cent francophone, with a significant ethnic population. There are perhaps a couple of hundred Jews. (The 2001 census identified 750 Jews in all of the South Shore.)

Early in the campaign, several of Saada’s posters were daubed with swastikas.

In Outremont, chassidic and haredi Jews there may have been the deciding factor in the election of Jean Lapierre, Prime Minister Paul Martin’s Quebec lieutenant, according to Alex Werzberger, president of the Coalition of Hassidic Organizations.

Lapierre, the former Bloc MP who ran for the first time as a Liberal, won by 3,000 votes, which is about the number of votes the chassidic and haredi communities delivered, Werzberger said.

Overall voter turnout in the riding was 59 per cent, but among chassidim and haredim, it was about 85 per cent, he said.

The communities are traditionally Liberal, but Werzberger said Lapierre made an effort to reach out, visiting some of the synagogues, and that helped shore up support for him.