Tensions on display in Mount Royal federal debate
By Joel Goldenberg
The tensions inevitably arising from a campaign between candidates well known to the community were on display during a Mount Royal riding CJAD radio debate between Liberal incumbent Irwin Cotler, Conservative candidate Saulie Zajdel and NDP hopeful Jeff Itcush.
The campaign has been marked by a scrap over a flyer alleged by Cotler to have been put together by Conservative supporters raising allegations about Liberal support for Israel, which Zajdel said he had nothing to do with; and tensions over issues taking place in the national campaign, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s charge that some sort of coalition or arrangement will take place between the three opposition parties if a Conservative minority government is elected.
The first spark was ignited when host Tommy Schnurmacher asked about the Conservative minority government scenario, and whether it was “legitimate to have the three opposition parties seek the confidence of the House [of Commons].”
Cotler said his party is in the election to win.
“We’re not speculating about a post-election outcome,” the MP added. “What eventually emerges will be appropriately addressed through parliamentary procedures and norms of responsibility.”
“You know that’s not true, Irwin!” Zajdel shot back. “You know damn well that you’re not going to win this election, your party’s not going to win this election. There’s no question about it — [Ignatieff] is looking at a backhanded way of doing it. We’re here to win a majority government, we want stability in this country, as we need it, in the next four years.”
“Given your record as a minority government, I’d hate to see what this country might be like under a majority government,” Cotler shot back. “Systematic violations of the Charter, continued contempt of Parliament, violations of the rule of law...”
“This is not the part where you interrupt each other, that’s coming up next,” Schnurmacher said jokingly.
Itcush, who remained calm throughout and who is riding high on CROP poll results placing his party first in Quebec, said no one has a crystal ball. “The Conservative Party keeps using this ‘horrendous’ c-word coalition... I would want to use another c-word, cooperation,” the NDP candidate said.
During a segment in which the candidates asked each other questions, Zajdel said that Cotler has been “above reproach” on an international level.
“But on a local level, having met with the councils of Côte St. Luc and Hampstead in caucus, and the mayor of TMR and having been in close consultation with a good friend of mine, [Côte des Neiges/NDG mayor] Michael Applebaum,” Zajdel said, “I’ve asked them all and asked people on the street, wherever I’m going door-to-door, [and they are saying] there’s not one thing in 12 years we can point to that you’ve brought to the riding of Mount Royal. I’m not talking about the local issues you deal with, with people.”
Cotler responded that “this has been a kind of ongoing politics of smear on your behalf. Michael Applebaum — who you’ve mentioned — happens to be supporting me in this campaign, so that speaks to that issue.
“With regard to the municipal councils, I have met regularly with them, and held regular public meetings,” Cotler said. “I haven’t seen you at any of these public meetings. If you care that much about Mount Royal, you could have come as a citizen.... We’ve helped thousands of residents — you’ve dismissed this — with regards to immigration, seniors and veterans. I’ve legislated more than any other member of Parliament on these matters of concern to people in our riding. When I was minister of justice, we introduced the first legislation ever related to the protection of children and other vulnerable persons. That helps people in the riding.”
Schnurmacher then asked a question from a listener — “how does turning Israel into a wedge issue affect Canada’s Jewish community?”
Zajdel said Israel is not a wedge issue.
“You have to look at the leadership of the parties,” the Conservative candidate said. “If all the parties were equal in this regard, I wouldn’t be saying anything. There’s not equality there at all. Mr. Ignatieff has not shown himself to be trustworthy and reliable in relation to that and other issues. He accused Israel of war crimes and compared it to an apartheid state. That’s not what the Conservatives and Mr. Harper have done.
There are major distinctions between our party and other parties. It’s not a wedge issue at all.”
Cotler countered that the Conservatives have made Israel into a wedge and partisan issue.
“If you really care about Israel, you wouldn’t want to say ‘we’re the only ones who care about Israel, no one else does,’” the MP said. “If you care about Israel because it’s a just cause and not simply a Conservative cause, then you don’t go ahead and try to undercut the justice of that cause by saying, ‘we’re the only ones and only the Conservatives support Israel.’”
“I didn’t say that,” protested Zajdel.
“And in terms of the politics of smear, I’ll quote one thing from Michael Ignatieff, ‘we may differ on many things with Prime Minister Harper and the Conservatives, but on Israel we stand together as one.’ The Conservatives should have welcomed that statement rather than make it into a wedge issue.”
Itcush also weighed in, saying “there’s no stronger advocate for Israel in this region” than Outremont NDP MP Thomas Mulcair.
“This is not specifically a Jewish issue,” the NDP candidate added. “Mulcair is not Jewish, but he lends consistent support to a viable peace in Israel and the surrounding territories. And that’s not lip service, it’s him going out on a consistent basis and, I would suspect, in any committee work that he would touch as well. I’m proud to be working with someone of that ilk who is supporting something on the basis of principle as opposed to identity.”
“What’s wrong with identity, Jeff?” Zajdel asked. “I’m a proud Jew.”
“There’s nothing wrong with identity,” Itcush responded. “I’m a proud Jew and I think we’re all proud Jews... [But] we’re becoming a laughingstock internationally because we’re narrowing our focus. The best way Canada can be an advocate for Israel or any other state that faces conflict is by reestablishing its position as an international broker.
“Any of us three who are sitting here who imagine and are pretentious enough to believe that we will be able to do a magical thing to snap our fingers like that to move towards a resolution, I say let’s rely on negotiators on the ground in the region who are knowledgeable,” Itcush said.