MONTREAL — Robert Libman thinks the Jewish community in Mount Royal should show its gratitude for the Harper government’s “unprecedented and unique” support for Israel by voting Conservative in the federal election next year.
Libman, who is seeking the Tory nomination in the Liberal stronghold, believes he could bridge and surpass the 2,200-vote gap that divided Liberal incumbent Irwin Cotler and Conservative runner-up Saulie Zajdel in the 2011 race.
A co-founder and the leader of the Equality Party, the former member of the National Assembly, member of the Montreal executive committee and Côte St. Luc mayor confirmed the “rumours” about his nomination bid. He said he was asked by the local riding association to run.
Libman, 53, said he will formally launch his bid in September and the nomination meeting will be held sometime in the fall. At time of writing, no one else wishing to be the Conservative candidate in the riding has come forward.
Although Mount Royal has been Liberal since 1940, the Conservatives have made significant inroads since Stephen Harper became prime minister in 2006.
Cotler, who was first elected in 1999 with 92 per cent of the vote, saw that plummet to 41 per cent in May 2011. He announced in February that he would not be seeking re-election.
An analysis of the polls show that about 60 per cent of Jewish voters cast their ballots for Zajdel. Approximately one-third of Mount Royal electors are Jewish.
Libman said the Harper government’s unwavering support for Israel, which has remained steadfast during the conflict between the Jewish state and Hamas in Gaza, is one of the main reasons he wants to be a Conservative MP.
So far, there are two contenders for the Liberal nomination: Côte St. Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather and public relations specialist Jonathan Goldbloom.
Libman said he was also asked by the riding association to run in 2011, but declined for a few reasons: his reluctance to run against Cotler, the age of his three children, and his desire to get out of politics after 16 years (his last public office was borough mayor of Côte St. Luc/Hampstead/Montreal West from 2001-2005, before the demerger.)
An architect by profession, Libman heads his own consulting firm. He is also a frequent political commentator with various media.
He concedes it may be a tougher battle this time for whoever runs for the Conservatives in Mount Royal.
Michael Ignatieff was Liberal leader in 2011, and many Jews viewed him as less than sympathetic toward Israel.
“With Justin Trudeau as leader, I’m sure the Liberals will want to ensure that the riding which his father [Pierre Trudeau] held for many years will remain Liberal,” Libman said.
Which candidate was more pro-Israel and the fiercer combatant of anti-Semitism was an acrimonious issue in the last Mount Royal campaign. An anonymous pro-Tory flyer, setting out in balance sheet format the purported record on Israel of each party, incensed Cotler for its looseness with the facts and innuendo.
Libman is not sure if Israel will be a “wedge issue” in next year’s campaign, but he is firm that the Harper government “deserves” an endorsement by the Jewish community. “How can our community not reward Stephen Harper?”
Libman has not been officially associated with the Conservatives in the past, but his admiration for Harper has drawn him to the party. He describes himself as a “fiscal conservative,” with experience in economic matters.