Robert Libman’s announcement that he’ll be running for the Conservatives in Mount Royal sets up an interesting 2015 race against the eventual winner of the Liberal nomination, either Anthony Housefather or Jonathan Goldbloom.
This is a riding that has voted Liberal in every election since 1940, and is rightly regarded as one of safest red seats in the country. Put a red ribbon on a dog and it would get elected there.
It also has the second largest Jewish population—36 per cent in the 2006 census– of any riding in the country.
Two of the towns in the riding, Hampstead and Cote St. Luc, are in percentage terms the third and fourth largest Jewish communities in the world (outside of Israel) with 74.2 and 69.1 per cent of the local population. The riding also includes the Montreal neighbourhoods of Snowdon and western Cote des Neiges, as well as the Town of Mount Royal, whose population is 12-per-cent Jewish. Important institutions such as the Jewish General Hospital, the Segal Centre for the Performing Arts, the Canadian Jewish Congress, the YM-YWHA, and several Jewish schools, are all in the heart of Snowdon and Cote des Neiges.
Libman, Housefather and Goldbloom are all prominent members of the Montreal Jewish community, though from very different backgrounds.
Libman was the founder and leader of the Equality Party, which elected him and four other members of the Quebec Legislature in 1989, the one following Robert Bourassa’s invoking the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution on the language of signs in Quebec. He later went on to become mayor of Cote St. Luc.
Libman said on Friday he was running for the Conservatives because of Stephen Harper’s position “on the Middle East”—read Israel, and his strong management of the economy.
Housefather, who is the sitting mayor of Cote St. Luc, announced his candidacy for the Liberal nomination last March. Goldbloom, who lives in neighbouring Westmount, has been a Liberal activist his entire life.
Over the past four elections, Cotler’s margins have been shrinking — from 81 per cent of the vote to only 41 per cent — when he defeated Conservative candidate Saulie Zajdel by only six points and 3,300 votes
It’s hard to say which one has the edge in the Liberal nomination race, but it’s fair to say Housefather is the outsider except for one thing—he graduated from McGill law school in 1991, the same time Justin Trudeau was on campus, as was his senior adviser Gerry Butts. In Justin’s circle, it helps to have gone to the same school.
Goldbloom is a member in good standing of the Liberal establishment. He is the second member of the Goldbloom family to seek the Liberal nomination in Mount Royal. His father, Victor Goldbloom, ran unsuccessfully for it in 1965 against a guy named Pierre Trudeau. In fairness to Dr. Goldbloom, still active at 91, the fix was in on that one by the boys over at headquarters. They wanted a safe seat for Trudeau, at the time one of the “three wise men” recruited by the Grits, the others being journalist Gerard Pelletier and union leader Jean Marchand.
Given Trudeau’s views on Quebec nationalism, the party needed a safe seat, a safe non-francophone seat. Mount Royal filled the bill—Alan Macnaughton had been the sitting MP since 1949, and by 1965 he was speaker of the House. No problem, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson named him to the Senate, and he stood aside for Trudeau.
Only four MPs have represented Mount Royal since 1949—Macnaughton until 1965, Trudeau from 1965-84, Sheila Finestone from 1984-99 and Irwin Cotler since then.
History repeated itself when Finestone, the sitting MP, stepped aside for a star candidate, Cotler, and went to a Senate reward. Elected with 90 per cent of the vote in a by-election, Cotler has won in the four general elections since then, but after 15 years in the House, including a distinguished term as Justice minister, Cotler is retiring.
Which leaves the seat up for grabs, possibly in more ways than the Liberals might imagine. Over the past four elections, Cotler’s margins have been shrinking — from 81 per cent of the vote to only 41 per cent — when he defeated Conservative candidate Saulie Zajdel by only six points and 3,300 votes. A former city councilor from the riding, Zajdel was later charged with corruption on a real estate deal, which kind of rules him out of the running.
The Liberal margins have been shrinking, and the Conservative vote growing in Mount Royal because of Harper’s unstinting support of Israel, at all times and in all circumstances.
These are such times and those are such circumstances as between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Even as a ceasefire was broken by one side or other at the weekend, Foreign Minister John Baird was quick to go out and blame it on Hamas.
The Conservatives aren’t going to get Trudeau, or NDP Leader Tom Mulcair for that matter, on the wrong side of Israel. And Trudeau’s own riding of Papineau is right next door.
But Harper’s staunch support of Israel, past and present, has not gone unnoticed in a community that has always voted Liberal.
This comment was originally published on iPolitics.ca.