MONTREAL — The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) is trying to allay concern about the election of a Parti Québécois (PQ) minority government headed by Pauline Marois with the reminder that the Jewish community has cultivated good relations with the party over the years.
CIJA’s vice-president for Quebec, Luciano Del Negro, said that PQ governments in the past showed generosity and sensitivity to the Jewish community and that many individual members can be counted on as steadfast friends.
The PQ government elected Sept. 4 is the fifth since 1976.
Del Negro acknowledged that the PQ’s weak grip on power, with 54 of the 125 National Assembly seats, should temper Marois’ drive for a quick referendum on sovereignty, tougher language laws, and “identity” projects, such as the “charter of secularism.”
“Quebecers have proved to be incredibly wise,” he said, “No one has been given a blank cheque… There’s no need for panic.”
He noted that the total popular vote for sovereigntist parties – the PQ, Québec solidaire (QS) and the new Option nationale, was well under 40 per cent.
Del Negro feels that it’s unhelpful to brand Marois as xenophobic or fanning xenophobia because of such proposed measures as banning public employees from wearing obvious religious symbols, except those that are Christian.
“It’s counterproductive to start tagging people, even when some of their positions are quite severe. It doesn’t allow us to dialogue with people. Circling the wagons does not enable us to carry on a civilized debate,” he said.
Del Negro said the community should seize the opportunity the premier-elect has presented. “I think Madame Marois extended a hand [to anglophones in her victory speech] and we should take it, not smack it down.”
Del Negro noted that he was told by senior party officials that Marois had planned to reach out similarly to “ethno-cultural communities” had her speech not been disrupted by deadly violence. Regarding her history with the Jewish community, Del Negro said that Marois, and most of her caucus, attended a wine-and-cheese reception this past spring that CIJA held at the National Assembly, and that she publicly condemned QS MNA Amir Khadir’s participation almost two years ago in the picketing of a St. Denis Street store for selling Israeli-made shoes. The PQ supported a motion last year denouncing that boycott, but it was never debated, because Khadir withheld his assent.
CIJA, speaking on behalf of the organized Jewish community, and B’nai Brith Canada issued statements congratulating the PQ on its win.
“Over the years, we have established strong and open channels of communication between the Jewish community and the PQ, and look forward to continuing a respectful and constructive dialogue between the Jewish community and the new Marois government,” stated Del Negro, while paying tribute to outgoing premier Jean Charest.
B’nai Brith national president Eric Bissell stated: “As Canada’s senior human rights advocacy organization with a long-standing presence in Quebec, we look forward to working with the new government and all members of the National Assembly to promote values of importance, not just to the Jewish community, but to all Quebecers.”
CIJA also deplored the shooting that occurred at the PQ’s victory celebration at the Metropolis concert hall, which resulted in the death of one man and the wounding of another.
“Our community is horrified by this act of senseless violence which has darkened an exemplary democratic exercise that all of we Quebecers have carried out peacefully and with respect for the political diversity of our society,” stated Del Negro, who was present when the incident occurred.
CIJA said that it’s “saddened” to see the re-election of Khadir, the QS’ sole MNA, in the Plateau Mont-Royal riding of Mercier. Besides the St. Denis protest, Khadir has been outspoken in his criticism of Israeli policies, took part in a nakba demonstration last year and has expressed sympathy for Hezbollah and Hamas.
Three years ago, the then new left-wing QS, passed a resolution endorsing the boycott campaign against Israel.
Khadir, his party’s co-spokesperson, easily kept his seat, beating his nearest PQ rival by two votes to one. This was despite a determined campaign against him waged by the anti-boycott Les Amis québécois d’Israel and its leader, Daniel Laprès, who said he was voting PQ for the first time to keep Khadir out.
The QS’ other spokesperson (a term the party prefers to leader), Françoise David, was elected for the first time and by a wide margin in Gouin, an area taking in Little Italy.
QS candidate Manon Massé, who was aboard the Canadian boat that tried to enter Gaza last year, came within less than 2,000 votes of the PQ victor in Sainte Marie-Saint Jacques, the riding in which the boycott-targeted Naot and Le Marcheur shoe stores are located.
Province-wide, however, support for the QS is at less than six per cent.
CIJA has sought good relations with all parties, except the QS, and Del Negro said that stand won’t change until it modifies its “hostile” views on Israel. “The ball is in their court,” he said.
One of the first candidates to be declared elected in the province, within minutes of the polls closing, was Liberal Lawrence Bergman in D’Arcy McGee, the only Jewish MNA, who garnered 85 per cent of the ballots. At 71, he is beginning his sixth term.
His nearest opponent, Sophie Leroux of the Coalition Avenir Québec, trailed by more than 20,000 votes. The riding’s electors apparently did not heed the advice of onetime Equality Party leader Robert Libman, also a former Côte St. Luc mayor and B’nai Brith regional director, that anglophones should consider the CAQ to show their dissatisfaction with the Liberals’ policies affecting anglophones.