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Several Jewish Candidates Vying for Leadership in Montreal Elections

The opinions, facts and any media content presented do not necessarily reflect the position of B’nai Brith Canada.

Oct. 27, 2017

MONTREAL – It’s municipal election time here in Montreal and all across Quebec as voters prepare to head to the polls on Sunday, Nov. 5. Full disclosure: I am seeking my fourth mandate as a city councillor in the predominately Jewish community of Côte Saint-Luc, the home of B’nai Brith’s Quebec office, B’nai Brith House for seniors and the future Chateau B’nai Brith.

Most of the attention is focused on the Montreal elections, where the incumbent Mayor Denis Coderre and his team were running high in the polls up until recently. Coderre’s only serious opponent is Valerie Plante from Projet Montréal who despite being relatively new to the game – she was first elected in 2013 – has already run a strong campaign. She particularly scored points after attacking Coderre for “excessive spending” on everything from the city’s 375th anniversary celebrations to the controversial Formula E races he supported.

For Montreal’s Jewish community, only nice things can be said about Coderre.

During his four-year mandate, Coderre was the guest speaker at a Canadian Friends of Tel Aviv University dinner in honour of retired Quebec Judge Herbert Marx, joined Toronto’s Mayor John Tory on a leadership mission to Israel, attended and spoke at the community-wide commemoration of Yom HaShoah and held his own such event at City Hall.

He also established a new police unit dedicated to hate crimes and incidents motivated by hate, the first of its kind in Quebec. “We had been calling for something like this for 10 years,” said B’nai Brith’s Moise Moghrabi.

One of Coderre’s senior advisors is Howard Liebman, who previously fulfilled the same role with Irwin Cotler when he was the Liberal MP for Mount Royal. Liebman has played a critical role in Coderre’s strong connection to the Jewish community.

Last Sunday, Coderre gave a tribute at a special luncheon to honour Holocaust survivors.

Two senior members of Coderre’s team, Lionel Perez and Russell Copeman, are Jewish. They serve in the populous Côte des Neiges-NDG Borough, where Copeman is mayor. Councillor Marvin Rotrand, who is also Jewish, had a loose affiliation with Coderre for most of his last mandate. But last summer Coderre took away Rotrand’s prized transportation portfolio and with that about $30,000 in extra salary.

Rotrand has since become his biggest critic and even put a former high profile councillor up for mayor, Jean Fortier. That is something that might work in Coderre’s favour and split the vote.

Elsewhere, in Côte Saint-Luc, all 15 candidates for office are Jewish as is the one councillor who was acclaimed. In neighbouring Hampstead, the mayor and four councillors were acclaimed. There are four candidates for two more seats – all of whom are Jewish. In Tony Westmount, there is a high-profile candidate for mayor in Beryl Wajsman. In West Island Dollard des Ormeaux, mayoral candidate Alex Bottausci has already had one of his election signs vandalized with an antisemitic message. There are three Jewish candidates for council there.

Then there is the borough of Outremont, where controversy related to the Jewish community never ceases. So obviously this election isn’t any different. Mindy Pollak, representing Projet Montréal, made headlines four years ago when she became the first Hasidic woman to win a seat on city council and has weathered many storms during that period. Meanwhile, Denis Coderre is running a candidate named Jean-Marc Corbeil for borough council who has a reputation for virulent opposition to the Hasidic community. He is also seen as an ally of a vocal group of citizens who object to accommodations for the Hasidic community.

Coderre maintains he checked into these allegations himself and believes the accusations are unfounded. But Corbeil allegedly supports local blogger Pierre Lacerte, whose postings have drawn accusations of antisemitism.

In a 2012 response to a posting about the Jewish holiday Purim, Corbeil writes: “Although municipal authorities will do nothing to jeopardize their electoral base, the fact remains that the Purim festival is a dangerous drinking binge for those who go out on our streets. The majority of revelers who drive have a blood alcohol level that makes them criminals.”

Pollak told me she is just as disturbed with Coderre’s candidate for borough mayor, present-day Councillor Marie Potvin.  “She voted to ban future synagogues and refused to sit down with members of the community to discuss solutions,” Pollak said.  “She also voted against moving the council date that fell on Rosh Hashanah. She never supported me or previous councillor Ana Nunes when we put forth motions to suspend application of our bus ban for Purim.”

The elections are all gaining a lot of headlines, raising hope that this will result in a strong voter turnout. Advance polls took place on Oct. 29.

Mike Cohen  is B’nai Brith Canada’s Quebec bureau chief. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @mikecohencsl.