For the first time in more than a decade, Israel is not a dominant issue among Jewish electors in Montreal’s Mount Royal riding in this campaign.
Since the 2008 election, by which time Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper had shown himself to be an unwavering supporter of the Jewish state, Liberal candidates have had to defend their party as just as great a friend.
Although the results were fairly close in 2011, the Liberals’ hold on Mount Royal has never been in serious doubt, and that is the case again in this election. (The statistical modeler, 338Canada.com, puts the odds of incumbent Anthony Housefather being re-elected at 99 percent.)
Housefather, who is seeking his third mandate, is aiming to continue to improve his showing: 50 percent in 2015 (a 12-point margin) and 56 percent (a 31-point margin) in 2019, against strong Tory candidates, Robert Libman and David Tordjman, respectively, both well known in municipal politics and in the Jewish community.
This time, the Conservatives are fielding Frank Cavallaro, the longtime CTV weather presenter who was most recently on CBC Radio.
Cavallaro, who is not Jewish, does not live in the riding, and has no political experience. After his job with CBC ended, Cavallaro launched his campaign back in February, taking a drubbing for doing so from Florida at a time when travel was strongly discouraged.
Housefather is going door-to-door six days a week, talking to people outside their homes. To those in apartments and condos, he offers Zoom meetings.
His early campaign was marred by swastikas on his signs, at least 40 in the first couple of weeks, but that appeared to stop when police said they would investigate the vandalism as a possible hate crime.
This is Housefather’s ninth electoral campaign—previously he ran three Côte St. Luc mayoralty races and three as a councillor before that, and never contended with antisemitic graffiti before.
According to the 2011 Canadian census, 30.7 percent of Mount Royal residents were Jewish. Housefather thinks that has not changed.
The multicultural riding encompasses the cities of Côte St. Luc, Hampstead and Town of Mount Royal (TMR), and the western Côte des Neiges district.
“I’m not hearing about Israel at all,” said Housefather who has always been an outspoken supporter and is chair of the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group.
Concerns about increasing antisemitism are heard. Housefather has been active in raising awareness of this scourge, and is a co-founder of an interparliamentary task force examining how to combat online antisemitism.
“Some people are aware of the national summit on antisemitism that our government held in July…They are curious about what the next steps will be, but I would say this is peripheral to concerns about COVID: how are we going to get back to normal? When are the borders going to open?”
He also gets questions about the federal funding of security infrastructure for at-risk communities’ institutions.
Just before the election call, Housefather announced that $1.2 million from the program was approved for 19 institutions (18 of them Jewish) in Mount Royal.
Housefather says he will encourage expansion of the program to include training of staff and occasional hiring of security personnel.
Although he hasn’t encountered much about it so far on the hustings, many Jewish and other minority members are disappointed that the federal government has not legally challenged Quebec’s secularism law, Bill 21.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during the Sept. 2 TVA French-language debate that he does not rule out the government joining the case led by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and National Council of Canadian Muslims, which is similar to what he said in the election two years ago. (Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and New Democratic Leader Jagmeet Singh both called the law discriminatory, but said they would not interfere in Quebec’s jurisdiction.)
“I’m completely against Bill 21 and I’ve said that from the beginning,” said Housefather. “I am doing everything I can to get the government to pay attention to this file and to look at every way it can intervene…I’ve been the most outspoken MP on this issue.”
Disappointment with Trudeau is the main reason Cavallaro abandoned his lifelong support for the Liberals. He grew increasingly disillusioned with the prime minister after “all the scandals,” and his handling of the pandemic and vaccine rollout.
When CBC did not renew his contract at the end of 2020, Cavallaro decided to run for office. The Conservatives offered him three ridings, he said, and he chose Mount Royal because he was born in Côte des Neiges and knew a lot of people in TMR.
Cavallaro hit the ground in April. He admits he’s learning about politics as he goes, and is having fun.
“I had a lot of Jewish friends and I think that’s increased by 10 by now. They have really welcomed me to discuss the issues,” he said.
Other candidates in the riding include Clement Badra who is running for the Green Party and Ibrahim Bruno El-Khoury who is running for the NDP.