By Mike Cohen
B’nai Brith Canada’s Quebec Region sponsored an animated federal election debate for the Mount Royal Riding on September 24 at the historic Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, featuring incumbent Liberal MP Anthony Housefather and Conservative Party candidate David Tordjman.
The Green Party contender called in sick, the NDP and Bloc Québecois hopefuls declined the invitation while Zachary Lozoff was allowed to set up an information table in the back of the room to share why he chose to run for the People’s Party of Canada (PPC).
While Housefather and Tordjman cordially shook hands before the debate, the gloves came off soon after Regional Director Harvey Levine introduced Global TV reporter Dan Spector as the moderator.
Tordjman spoke about his military service, his work for the city and the three years he spent in Haiti as an engineer as part of the reconstruction efforts following the horrific earthquake. Since then he has done a lot of work for the First Nations. “Why am I putting myself out there?” he asked rhetorically. “Because I believe somebody needs to bring honour and ethics back to Parliament! We have seen four years of failures and scandals day by day. The support of Israel pales in comparison to the years of Stephen Harper.”
Housefather went into great detail about his 25 years of service to the community as a municipal councillor, mayor and now an MP. He alluded to a recent cheque of $922,000 he delivered to a day program in Côte Saint-Luc for older adults which gives their caregivers a necessary break. This program was in jeopardy of being cancelled more than four years ago when Housefather stepped in then as mayor and worked out an arrangement to keep it going. In fact he was instrumental in Parliament creating a national dementia program. “This debate is about who will serve the Mount Royal riding,” Housefather said, listing a wide array of achievements which backed up his point.
The audience of about 250 people included some vocal supporters from both sides. Spector had to ask people consistently to tone down the catcalls.
On social services, Housefather spoke proudly of how hard he worked to make the recently opened Chateau B’nai Brith subsidized housing high rise in Côte Saint-Luc a reality and mentioned similar projects in the riding he contributed to.
The section on antisemitism prompted Tordjman to criticize the Liberals for removing East End candidate Hassan Guillet recently for statements he made which were considered both antisemitic and anti-Israel. “Why did we have people like this in the Liberal Party in the first place?” he asked. “The Liberals got rid of him only after B’nai Brith made his views public.”
Housefather said that he was the first MP to call for a national plan to combat racism in Canada, with antisemitism as a central pillar of this process. “I condemn the BDS movement as does the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party,” he declared.
Pushing further on the BDS theme, Housefather reasoned that it is merely another form of antisemitism. “Canada benefits from Free Trade with Israel,” he explained. “I speak at campuses across the country on this issue. We cannot use BDS as a partisan wedge between parties.”
The candidates were asked about Bill 21, the legislation prohibiting religious symbols in the public sector. “As soon as Bill 21 came out I was the first MP who said how wrong it is,” he remarked, adding that he organized a rally against in his riding.”
Housefather then singled out Tory MP Alain Rayes for openly supporting Bill 21. He noted that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he leaves the door open to challenge the law while Conservative leader Andrew Scheer condemned the legislation, but said he will not challenge it. Tordjman reasoned that there are already different court proceedings underway so it is best to see how they conclude. “I doubt highly Justin Trudeau will stand up on this,” he said. “He is just pandering.”
Tordjman questioned why “Mount Royal has to be the savior of the Liberal Party when it comes to issues of Israel and antisemitism.” But Housefather made no apologies for his role in this area. “I have been one of the leading voices for Israel and combatting antisemitism,” he said.
There are no other debates in the riding currently planned.