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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

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Community objects to Mount Royal’s demise

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Irwin Cotler

MONTREAL — The organized Jewish community expressed its opposition to the proposed elimination of Mount Royal riding at public hearings on the redrawing of the federal electoral map, saying it would divide the Jewish community and separate it from its institutions.

The federal government’s plan is to replace much of Mount Royal’s territory with a new riding called John Peters Humphrey, which would stretch from Victoria Avenue in Snowdon westward to encompass Dorval, and divide Côte St. Luc in two.

In a brief presented to the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission on Nov. 12, leaders of Federation CJA and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), as well as the federation’s social services agency Ometz, said the change will have “a direct and significant impact on the Jewish community.”

They say the Jewish community, which represents about 36 per cent of Mount Royal’s 101,000 residents, represents “a community of interest or identity,” one of the defining characteristics of a federal riding according to the law.

They noted that Jews have lived in significant numbers in Mount Royal for much of its history, since its creation in 1924.

The riding is currently represented by Liberal MP and former justice minister Irwin Cotler. He’s held the district since 1999. Before that, it was held by longtime Liberal MP Sheila Finestone, and before that by former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, also a Liberal.

“We believe that our communal interests are most effectively represented by a single MP and that by separating parts of our community from several of its key social service and communal institutions, the proposed change in boundaries will serve to weaken our overall political representation,” the brief states.

It’s signed by federation CEO Deborah Corber, CIJA Quebec vice-president Luciano Del Negro and Ometz co-executive director Howard Berger.

They say that moving the eastern boundary of the riding from Côte des Neiges Road, where Mount Royal now extends, to Victoria would result in a “disconnect” between the majority of Jewish community members and such institutions as the Jewish General Hospital (JGH), Jewish Eldercare Centre, Project Genesis, Mada Community Centre and several synagogues.

This could mean dealing with more than one MP whenever federal issues arose, they say.

“The result of the proposed boundary changes would be to impose an artificial political boundary between the efforts of one MP to advocate on behalf of the Jewish community writ large and another MP to represent select Jewish community institutions.”

The new John Peters Humphrey riding would not take in the area where Mount Royal’s constituency office is located on Kent Avenue, they note.

The office has been at that address since 1984 and is a good one, the organizations say, because of its centrality and easy accessibility.

They also note that the proposed new riding would have a population of 104,628, which is above the recommended limit of 101,321 set for Quebec by the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. Mount Royal’s population is almost on target at 101,273.

The YM-YWHA, JGH, the Jewish Russian Community Centre, and Congregation Shomrim Laboker also made presentations to the commission last week.

In its brief, the Y said that 74 per cent of the nearly 8,000 members of its main Snowdon branch live in Mount Royal riding, and that the branch has been located in the riding since the 1950s.

“So it cannot and should not be a surprise that the YM-YWHA is dismayed and acutely concerned by the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission’s proposal to do away with the Mount Royal riding and split it into three new federal districts, i.e., John Peters Humphrey, Outremont and Wilder Penfield,” states the brief, signed by president Peter Lewis and executive director Marlene Jennings.

The Y recommends that any reconfiguring of the electoral map ensure that the Jewish communities in Côte St. Luc, Hampstead, Town of Mount Royal and Côte des Neiges/Snowdon continue to be located within one riding.

(The towns of Mount Royal and Hampstead would remain intact in the proposed John Peters Humphrey riding.)

Canada’s electoral map is revised every 10 years, after the census is conducted, to reflect population growth and shifts. Quebec is to receive three additional seats, for a total of 78.

The late John Peters Humphrey, a Montrealer and McGill University professor, was the first director of the United Nations human rights division and the principal drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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