Had it not been for Parti Québécois (PQ) Leader Jean-François Lisée’s unbending rationalization of his Mercier candidate’s remarks years ago about Hasidim and Hitler, the provincial election might have slipped by with little Jewish community attention.
The candidate, Michelle Blanc, has stayed mum while Lisée has repeatedly defended her two 2007 and 2011 posts, respectively, as free speech and “black humour.”
B’nai Brith Canada demanded Blanc’s withdrawal from the race, while the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), which does not think that Blanc is anti-Semitic, did ask her to apologize.
Otherwise, nothing else by the time of writing had grabbed Jewish voters except perhaps that it is taking place on Oct.1, a Jewish holiday, Shemini Atzeret.
This is the first time the law passed by the PQ government in 2013 establishing fixed elections on the first Monday in October every four years has been applied.
The advance polls on Sept. 23 and 24 also partially conflict with the first two days of Sukkot. Observant Jews can cast ballots at several other times before the election at the returning officer’s in their riding.
Director-general of elections Pierre Reid’s response to concerns raised by D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum was that staffing would sufficient to expedite voting in ridings with a significant Jewish population.
Birnbaum also objected, along with CIJA, several municipal officials and a citizens’ committee to the director-general’s decision last year to merge the Mont Royal and Outremont ridings. The result is that neighbouring D’Arcy McGee is a larger riding than in 2014, making the proportion of Jewish and anglophone electors slightly lower.
The upper Plateau Mont-Royal riding of Mercier’s boundaries have also been altered, leaving the Hasidic population divided between two ridings, rather than concentrated in safely Liberal Outremont.
Mercier was held by Québec Solidaire’s (QS) Amir Khadir for 10 years. The current candidate is Ruba Ghazal, who is of Palestinian origin.
According to poll aggregating website QC125.com, Mercier is likely to be retained by QS where it had 50 per cent of popular support on Sept. 17. The PQ’s Blanc was well back at 15 per cent. It’s not a comfortable prospect given QS’s left wing separatist ideology. The party officially supports BDS, and senior co-spokesperson Manon Massé (the party does not have a “leader) was aboard the Canadian boat that tried to breach the Gaza blockade in 201l.
The rejigged electoral map on the Island of Montreal is the subject of a legal challenge by the citizens’ committee, which has engaged human rights lawyer Julius Grey. The main argument is that the electoral weight of citizens has been diminished relative to ridings, particularly in the regions, that have lower populations. The case will not be heard before next year.
Barring a miracle, D’Arcy McGee will return the Liberal Birnbaum, the sole Jewish MNA, who is seeking a second term. He is unlikely to repeat the 92 per cent majority he enjoyed in 2014, but QC125.com put the Liberals at over 77 per cent on Sept. 17, with the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) trailing at under 8 per cent.
Despite some dissatisfaction with the government of Philippe Couillard, particularly over health care and religious neutraliy Bill 62, there is no discernible movement by Jews to the CAQ, which continues to lead in the polls.
The ill-conceived legislation, that stipulates faces must be uncovered in the delivery or receipt of public services, was intended to put to rest the accommodation of religious minorities debate that has roiled the province over the past decade.
The CAQ’s nationalist tone and the fact leader François Legault is a former PQ cabinet minister suspected of talking out of both sides of his mouth to francophones and anglophones, rules out any serious consideration by the great majority of Jews.
They are also uneasy with his aim of reducing immigration by 20 per cent and requiring newcomers to pass a French and “values” test within three years or be forced to leave.
Additionally, Legault has vowed that he will not tolerate “illegal schools,” a clear reference to certain schools of the Hasidic and other haredi communities that are still not in full compliance with the law.
Legault insists more restrictive legislation is needed on the wearing of religious symbols by public officials. He would extend the ban, for example, to police officers, judges and even teachers.
The rise of the CAQ, which was founded in 2011, has meant that for the first time in more than 40 years independence has not been an election issue, and the PQ will almost certainly be relegated to third-party status.
Birnbaum says Legault is alarmist in portraying the current level of immigration as a threat to Quebec’s language and culture. “Instead of saying, ‘Welcome, what do you need to feel at home in Quebec?’, [Legault is saying] ‘Oh, God, how are they going to fit in?’
“He is saying that if you wear a turban, a kippah or a hijab, you are not good enough to be a police officer, to teach my kids, or to rule from the bench.”
That has not deterred the CAQ from attracting at least two Jewish candidates – the number it had in the last election.
Laura Azéroual, who is running in Robert Baldwin on the West Island, has highlighted the fact that her parents immigrated here from Morocco 43 years ago. She has an uphill battle against Finance Minister Carlos Leitao.
The message of Mélodie Cohn in D’Arcy McGee is that she (unlike Birnbaum) grew up in D’Arcy McGee and lives there. “I know the needs of the population and I want to fight for their interests in Quebec City,” she says. Cohn is stressing the CAQ has a better platform for families in particular.
While Jewish voters, like other Quebecers, feel the health care system is getting worse, community leaders also fear the long-term consequences of the sweeping reorganization of the system 3-1/2 years ago.
The institutions it built, including the Jewish General Hospital (JGH), no longer have their own boards, but rather are run by a regional authority.
On the other hand, Health Minister Gaétan Barrette did see the JGH through a financial crisis four years ago, and supported the completion of its new wing, Pavilion K.