It was around four years ago when Denis Coderre stepped down as a Liberal Member of Parliament for the riding of Bourassa to seek the mayoralty of Montreal. One of his handlers gave me a call.
“Can you do an interview with Denis for the Jewish press?” he said. “People need to know what a friend he is to the Jewish community.”
Coderre had been dogged by questions about his participation in an August 2006 rally in downtown Montreal during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War. He told me to inform readers of his goal: to remind people that we should be making a substantial push for peace. When he bluntly denounced the rocket attacks of both Israel and Hezbollah he was greeted with sustained booing.
“I was the minister in the federal Liberal cabinet who classified Hezbollah as an unwanted terrorist organization,” Coderre told me. “Israel has the right to defend itself. This I have always maintained. I have travelled to Israel and enjoy a very close friendship with Jewish Parliamentarian Irwin Cotler. I also might add that as the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, I kicked Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel out of our country.”
Coderre was indeed elected to office and has become a very popular figure in this city. He has also surrounded himself with a number of Jewish personalities. On City Council, Lionel Perez, Russell Copeman and Marvin Rotrand all play important roles. He hired Howard Liebman, previously the chief of staff to Irwin Cotler when he was the Mount Royal Liberal MP, as his special advisor on international affairs. And he has been very visible at Jewish community events.
Coderre is now truly the apple of the Jewish community’s eye. He and Toronto Mayor John Tory recently led an economic mission to Israel and the West Bank, organized by the two cities together with the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, Montréal International and the Toronto Region Board of Trade.
Thirteen strategic partnership agreements were signed by companies and university institutions in key areas including cyber-security, clean technologies, the digital sector, research and higher education.
“This mission helped to strengthen ties with Israel and the West Bank, with whom we already have productive relationships, thanks to the vitality of the Montreal community,” Coderre said. “All of the activities and agreements resulting from this mission to strengthen Montreal's position as an innovative city and a centre of excellence in advanced fields, with a view to supporting our economic and urban development objectives, including electrification of transportation. This mission paves the way for future partnerships that could be developed through our newly-built relationships.”
Some of the commercial agreements signed included: transfer to Montreal the North American headquarters of Israeli company Tefron; distribution agreement between the Quebec firm Mirades and Israeli technology company GamaSec for the protection of cyber-security solutions throughout Québec and Canada; agreement between the Quebec firm PM SCADA Cybersecurity and Israeli SCADAfence to expand the SCADAfence laboratory in Montreal, and a partnership between the Quebec firm Renewz and Israeli firm Inbar Solar Energy to distribute and install solar shelter products in Israel.
Renewz also publicly launched its new iSun platform in Israel and signed a cooperation agreement with Israeli company Driivz on energy management platforms involving electric vehicle rates. Following a meeting with Mayor Coderre, Phinergy announced a pilot-projet aimed at testing its aluminum-air technology for electric vehicles and stationary applications in Montréal.
Montreal university institutions also signed academic cooperation agreements to promote research, innovation, economic development as well as the mobility and exchange of students and researchers. HEC Montréal and COMAS Israel jointly launched the IQBator virtual incubator, which will help three Montréal institutions (Université de Montréal, HEC Montréal, Polytechnique Montréal) and COMAS to transform their ideas into concrete business projects. Concordia University signed three agreements with four Israeli universities: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University. The Université de Montréal also signed a cooperation agreement with the University of Tel Aviv.
Tourism Montréal, the Israel Government Tourist Office and Jerusalem Convention & Visitors Bureau signed two protocols to promote exchanges and joint initiatives in the field of tourism.
With “Montreal and Toronto, your business partners” as a theme, Mayors Coderre and Tory addressed an audience of 200 Israeli business leaders brought together by the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce to promote Canada's two largest cities as well as business opportunities. The two mayors repeated their message of business cooperation at a luncheon in Ramallah attended by members of the Ramallah and West Bank business communities. The mayors met officially with their counterparts from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Be'er Sheva (Israel) and Ramallah (West Bank). Coderre and the Mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa Ron Huldai signed a friendship and cooperation agreement to build close relationships in the fields of economic development, culture, transportation, urban planning, and an initiative called Living Together.
The Azrieli Foundation announced, in the presence of Coderre and Huldai, an international conference and exhibition to mark the 50th anniversary of Expo 67 and Montreal's 375th anniversary, jointly with Concordia University and Tel Aviv University, to be held next year in Montreal.
The cities of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Be'er Sheva joined the International Observatory of Mayors on Living Together. The Observatory, which is a Montreal initiative, is a platform for sharing experiences, pioneering initiatives and knowledge on cohesion, inclusion and urban safety. It has brought together 35 international cities since its creation.
Mayor Coderre delivered a keynote speech at the 31st International Mayors' Conference hosted by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and held discussions with other senior political and government representatives, including Tzipi Hotovely, the Deputy Foreign Minister, Michael Oren, Deputy Minister for Diplomacy in the Prime Minister's Office, and the Speaker of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament), Yuli Edelstein. Topics of discussion were the role of cities and urban diplomacy, the new urban agenda, Living Together and the fight against antisemitism and all forms of racism.
On their arrival in Tel Aviv, Mayors Coderre and Tory attended a performance by Montreal's Cirque Eloize, currently on tour in Tel Aviv. The mayors met with the Cirque's President, Jeannot Painchaud, as well as with performers.
“I would like to thank the Mayor of Toronto, John Tory, as well as the delegates from Montréal and Toronto, who through dedication and quality, innovative products and projects, contributed to the success of this mission which will have concrete economic, academic, social, tourism and cultural spinoffs for our two cities,” Coderre said. “By joining forces, we have successfully improved competitiveness on the international scene,”
Perez and Liebman were among those with Coderre on the mission. So was hugely successful Jewish Montreal businessman Mitch Garber. “The trip was a tremendous success from every point of view, not the least of which was to watch Denis Coderre carry the flag of Montreal proudly and with great success in Israel,” he told me. “The highlight for me was when I introduced the mayor and Irwin Cotler to my friend the Chief Rabbi in Jerusalem and they took the opportunity to say a Kaddish with him at the Kotel for Leonard Cohen. Montrealers should be as proud of how Mayor Coderre represented us in Israel, as I am for having accompanied him.”
Coderre and Tory visited Yad Vashem and the graves of former Israeli President Shimon Peres and former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. They visited Ben Gurion, Tel Aviv and Hebrew Universities accompanied by leaders of Concordia, Université de Montréal and Hautes Études Commerciale.
I think it is reasonable to declare that Coderre is now the toast of the Jewish community. It is time to throw him a Bar Mitzvah!
Mike Cohen is the B’nai Brith Canada Quebec bureau chief. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mikecohencsl
Tory and Codere at the gravesite of Shimon Peres