Doorstep Postings: What business does a Jewish politico from Toronto have in a place like Brampton? Working to defeat a friend of Paul Godfrey

Nikki Kaur’s original election signs went viral for misspelling Brampton.

This is the 10th in a series of opinion columns on Ontario’s 2022 municipal elections, written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.

Noah Zatzman last spoke with The Canadian Jewish News during last year’s implosion of the federal Green Party. At the time, he’d just stepped away from being a senior advisor to leader Annamie Paul, before antisemitism played a role in her moving on, too.

Since then, he’s been trying to find less controversial ways to pass the time—with mixed results. 

Zatzman spent the first half of 2022 helping with the Ontario Liberal election effort, while also settling into a new job with the Aurora Strategy Group—which is run by Marcel Wieder.

A seasoned Dalton McGuinty operative who specializes in highly partisan mailbox-stuffers, Wieder has deep ties to the Working Families coalition. Political strategist Nick Kouvalis invited him to join a multi-partisan coalition working to dethrone Patrick Brown.

Zatzman was right along for the ride. 

“It’s not often that you see Annamie Paul people and Pierre Poilievre people working side by side, but here we are,” Noah says about finding himself involved in the Brampton mayoral race. “Patrick Brown has that effect.”

Kouvalis is no stranger to danger himself. One of the key minds behind Rob Ford’s rise to power, B.C. premier Christy Clark’s shocking turnaround victory in 2013, and Kellie Leitch’s wild attempt to become federal Conservative leader, he’s been implicated in a string of controversies—from phone calls in Mount Royal targeting longtime Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, to a bizarre happening at a Kelseys roadhouse restaurant where break-and-enter charges were later dropped. 

But now, Kouvalis has the scandal-plagued Mayor Brown in his sights, after a term marred by accusations of influence-peddling by forensic investigations—and by the firing of the city’s integrity commissioner.

Brampton has a unique political and musical Jewish heritage as the home of Camp Naivelt, which was founded in 1925 and remains a cottage community to this day. Yet the ninth-largest city in Canada only has one synagogue, Temple Har Tikvah.

Plus, with the 2016 census showing just 590 self-identified Jewish people among nearly 600,000 residents, their specific issues are eclipsed by other minority-group concerns.

But the citizens of Brampton have had to deal with the fallout from Brown’s comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, most notably his interview with a Montreal-based Arabic-language publication where he deplored the Conservative Party of Canada’s support for Israel—and claimed that party was rife with Islamophobia. 

While his high-profile supporter Paul Godfrey attempted damage control from his prominent publishing perch at Postmedia, a more recent Jerusalem Post article found Brown alleging those comments played a role in his ouster from the federal leadership race. 

“It’s just another thing on top of the pile,” Zatzman says. “The reasons Mr. Brown was ejected have nothing to do with the Israel-Palestinian conflict. He is turning on the Jewish community for his own political advantage.”

And now Paul’s son Rob Godfrey’s name has been mentioned in reports that Brown appeared to issue lucrative city contracts to his close friends without considering other bidders.

Rob didn’t respond to requests for comment by Global News about a $629,000 contract that his then-employer received for work on the failed development of Brampton University.

But it’s definitely on the radar of the rival campaign:

Zatzman hopes that the anti-Brown coalition’s preferred candidate, former municipal employee and Brown whistleblower Nikki Kaur, will be a breath of fresh air. 

“Conduct is top of mind for Bramptonians,” he says, “and Nikki’s conduct has been exemplary. She really spoke truth to power, even when it was very difficult for her. She was fired, and then rehired.

“She’s focused on residents and not on scandals. Just days ago, another bomb dropped related to Mayor Brown’s legal fees, and, frankly, the city just wants to get back to normal more than anything.”

Zatzman points to the fact that 38-year-old Kaur is Brampton-born and bred, whereas Brown based most of his political life in Barrie and only chose his current home after being ejected as Ontario PC leader in 2018.

She’s focusing her campaign on issues of crime, wanting to hire 100 extra police officers and strengthen neighbourhood watch programs. 

“Bramptonians don’t want a mayor that will leave for another job,” says Zatzman. “And make no mistake, this election is a referendum on Patrick Brown.

“We’re really hoping to have the Jewish community come and support in any way they can.”

Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.