Zajdel, Cotler ready for a political fight in Mount-Royal
Published Monday, March 28, 2011 8:39PM EDT
Saulie Zajdel spent 20 years on Montreal's city council and now, after a brief respite managing Laval's Jewish Rehab Hospital, he's re-entering the political fray.
And he hasn't chosen the easiest port of entry.
Zajdel will be running for the Conservatives in the Liberal fortress of Mount-Royal, a riding that has voted red in 22 consecutive elections since 1940 and has elected Liberal incumbent Irwin Cotler four straight times.
But Zajdel is such a staunch believer in Tory Leader Stephen Harper, it's an uphill climb he is more than willing to undertake.
"It's a great cause and I'm passionate about the Conservative Party and passionate about Stephen Harper," Zajdel told CTV Montreal's Caroline Van Vlaardingen. "So here I am."
Zajdel admits he was a long-time Liberal supporter and even stepped aside for Cotler to win the party's riding nomination for a 1999 byelection.
But Zajdel says that changed when Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff accused Israel of war crimes in its conflict with Lebanon.
"My opponent is a decent man," Zajdel said, "but he's with the wrong party."
Ignatieff later apologized, but the impact on Zajdel remained.
He says Harper's handling of the economy and his strong support for Israel earned him new respect.
"He's been historic in his support of the state of Israel and the Jewish community recognizes that and I recognize that," Zajdel said. "So when the call came – I'm there."
Mount-Royal has an extremely strong Jewish population at 36.3 per cent according to 2001 census data, higher than any other religious group in the riding.
Cotler, undergoing his sixth election since getting the Liberal nod in the riding for that 1999 byelection, says he doesn't want Israel to become a wedge issue in this election.
But he's prepared to defend his record if he needs to.
"I have nothing to feel apologetic about with respect to my support and defence of the state of Israel or my involvement in the pursuit of peace in the Middle East going back 50 years," Cotler said.
Having said that, Cotler believes all the voters in Mount-Royal riding, whether they are Jewish or not, will have more than one issue on their minds when they go to the polls May 2.
"They care about health care, they care about seniors, they care about poverty, they care about social justice," Cotler said. "So I think it's unfair to stereotype the Jewish community as if they only care about Israel."
There's been a gradual slide in Liberal support in the riding throughout Cotler's tenure, from a staggering 81.2 per cent in 2000 down to 55.6 per cent in 2008. Meanwhile, the Conservatives have gone from 8.6 per cent support in 2004 to 27.3 per cent in 2008.
And while Zajdel concedes there is more than a single foreign affairs issue in play, he still hopes it can perhaps be a deciding factor come election day.
"There's a lot of that sentiment in the riding," Zajdel says.