Article mis en ligne le jeudi 12 mai 2011
It was a subdued crowd that waited nervously for election results to trickle in on Monday night at Irwin Cotler’s campaign office in Cavendish Mall. In the end, the veteran MP and renowned human rights advocate bested his Conservative challenger, former city councillor Saulie Zajdel, despite a disastrous showing for the Liberals.
His supporters were both saddened and incredulous. Longtime Liberal Miriam Morris expressed the mood of the evening: “All I want is for Irwin Cotler to come in,” she said, when it became apparent that the Liberals would no longer be the official opposition.
Cotler won the riding with 92% of the vote in a 1999 by-election, but his support had de-clined to 55% by the last election. Throughout the campaign pundits had speculated that he might not make it because of possible vote-splitting among Jewish voters, a core con-stituency for the past president of the Canadian Jewish Congress.
Zajdel has also been a leader in the Jewish community. He served as the regional director for Quebec of Bnai Brith Canada and was an outspoken advocate for Israel in the run-up to the election. Tensions flared when the Conservatives sent flyers to Jewish households focused exclusively on Jewish issues, sparking accusations by Cotler that they were stereotyping Jewish voters.
NDPer Jeff Itcush, a history teacher at Bialik High School and first vice-president of the Federation of Teachers of Jewish Schools, placed a distant third. But, unlike less well-known NDP candidates, he wasn’t swept into office by the ‘orange wave,’ a catchphrase coined by the media to describe the turning tide for the NDP. Bloc Québécois candidate Gabriel Dumais was largely absent during the campaign, saying only that he ran to give voters a choice.
Cotler was sanguine about the results for his party, but hopeful that it would rebound and rebuild itself. He said that it had experienced a similar defeat in 1984, and then again in 1988, but had gone on to win three successive majority mandates.
He attributed the Liberal free fall to surging support for the NDP in Quebec, a province with progressive roots, and fears about the prospect of a coalition which the Conserva-tives had capitalized on, despite leader Michael Ignatieff’s insistence that the Liberals weren’t interested in being part of a coalition government.
“I want to express my appreciation for the support of Côte-des-Neiges voters and for the Rainbow Coalition that inspired my election,” he said, adding that he looked forward to working together in common cause on matters of concern in the areas of healthcare, im-migration, seniors issues, youth employment, education, anti-poverty, social housing, the environment, and the like.
For his part Zajdel has gone back to work as the director of the Jewish Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation. He said that he had given it “a great shot, but better luck next time” and doesn’t rule out a second run for office.
[ Deborah Rankin ]