MONTREAL — While thousands of students were demonstrating in the streets of Montreal, more than 800 other young people were mingling with politicians over drinks against the backdrop of pulsating music spun by a DJ.
The scene the night of May 17 was the dimly lit l’Arsenal, a chic, contemporary art gallery in Griffintown, a onetime factory originally built in 1843.
This was the fourth annual Action Party hosted by the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC), an independent organization that seeks to get young Jews and others who are pro-Israel interested in politics.
CJPAC, founded seven years ago, is trying to get young adults actively involved in politics, not only reading the news and voting, but becoming a member of the party of their choice or working on election campaigns at any level.
“It’s amazing to watch so many people who might otherwise avoid politics break through that barrier,” said Kim Heilpern, an Action Party chair.
“Bringing the community and politicians together for a fabulous party with great food, music and drinks is a great way to show that becoming politically active can be both easy and fun.”
This was by far the largest turnout yet, suggesting that the party has become a prized ticket despite the $60 ($70 at the door) price tag. Two busloads of attendees came in from Ottawa to join the Montrealers.
While the protest was not nearby, the student unrest did have a direct effect on the event. It coincided with the national assembly’s sitting to draft emergency legislation to end the crisis, and no MNAs were present. Last year, Premier Jean Charest was a surprise guest.
Nevertheless, CJPAC recorded 30 federal and municipal politicians in the capacity crowd, which made its way around two life-size black horse mannequins with lampshades on their heads.
The partygoers had an opportunity to meet two national party leaders: the official Opposition Leader, New Democrat Thomas Mulcair, who attended with his wife, Catherine Pinhas, and interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae, who was joined by his wife, Arlene Perly Rae.
There were also two federal cabinet ministers, Diane Ablonczy, minister of state for foreign affairs (Americas and consular affairs), and Jason Kenney, minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism, as well as Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs.
New Democrats were conspicuous by their large turnout. Several of the now year-old NDP MPs from Quebec joined in the informal get-together, including Tyrone Benskin and Isabelle Morin of the Montreal ridings, respectively, of Jeanne-Le Ber and Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Lachine; Jonathan Genest-Jourdain of Manicouagan in the Charlevoix-Saguenay region; Françoise Boivin of Gatineau and Mathieu Ravignat of nearby Pontiac; Mylène Freeman of Argenteuil-Papineau-Mirabel; Pierre Nantel of Longueuil-Pierre Boucher; and Jamie Nicholls of Vaudreuil-Soulanges, as well as veteran Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin.
The ranking municipal politician was Michael Applebaum, chair of the Montreal executive committee and mayor of the Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough. Côte St. Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather was joined by almost all of his councillors.
Supporters of Israel and the Jewish community must be present in the political process, CJPAC’s Toronto-based executive director Mark Waldman emphasized.
“If our community is going to be heard and have an impact, it will be because average Jewish and pro-Israel Canadians participate in the democratic process. Young people are especially open to this message.”
The format seems to work: no speeches or introductions. Politicians wear name tags, and attendees are on their own to meet them – or not.
CJPAC has an office in Montreal, led by regional director Steeve Azoulay, and other events are held here throughout the year. For more information, visit CJPAC.ca.