MONTREAL — Irwin Cotler says Mount Royal Conservative candidate Robert Libman is spreading false and misleading information about his position on whether Canada should have joined the U.S.-led mission against Islamic State.
Libman sent postcards to homes in the riding and issued a press release late last week headlined “Liberal icon Irwin Cotler admitting Liberal party failure on the fight against terrorism.”
In a statement, Libman said he “welcomed” remarks that were attributed to Cotler, who is retiring as the Liberal MP for Mount Royal after 16 years, published in Maclean’s magazine.
Cotler, he said, has “admitted that the Liberal Party of Canada has no credibility when it comes to foreign affairs, and neither does Justin Trudeau.”
The Sept. 24 Maclean’s article paraphrases Cotler as saying the Liberal caucus’s decision to oppose Canada’s participation in the military mission, as well as the Conservatives’ ridiculing of Justin Trudeau on the issue, “hurt Liberal credibility in the area of foreign affairs.”
It then directly quotes Cotler: “When the [Liberal] party voted against the multilateral mission, [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper was playing the adult in the room regarding fighting terrorism.”
The Conservatives attacked the Liberal leader at the time for his “juvenile humour” in a comment that Canada should be more focused on humanitarian aid “rather than trying to whip out our CF-18s and show them how big they are.”
Libman pounced on the published Cotler remarks to assert that Trudeau “makes excuses for terrorists and lacks the experience and maturity to deal with the real threats posed by Islamic terrorists at home and abroad,” while Harper “believes that more must be done to fight terrorism…Residents of Mount Royal can rest assured that Stephen Harper is the only leader that has a clear plan to protect Canadians from jihadists threats.”
Cotler has fired back that Libman is “misrepresenting my quote [and] falsely implied that I did not support the Liberal party.”
He told The CJN: “It is not Justin Trudeau or the Liberal party that have failed in the fight against terrorism. Rather, Prime Minister Harper’s law and policy –and his ‘playing the adult in the room’ –that has undermined, and continues to undermine, anti-terrorism law and policy with its fear-mongering and divisiveness, and thereby undermines the effective fight against terrorism”
Cotler did break party ranks and abstain from voting against the government motion in October 2014 to join the mission in Iraq, and he abstained again this past April on a motion to expand the mission into Syria.
Cotler supported a combat role for Canada against the Islamic State, but criticized the government motion for giving the “criminal” regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad the right to approve operations in Syria. He also felt the motion “lacked clarity” on its scope and cost.
In an Oct. 12 statement, Cotler said: “I strongly support [Mount Royal Liberal candidate] Anthony Housefather, who was my law student, who has been an exemplary mayor of Côte St. Luc, and who is a knowledgeable, eloquent, effective and caring candidate who is responsive on all the issues of concern to the Mount Royal riding and beyond. He will be an outstanding MP.
“I might add – though it hardly needs to be said because it is a matter of record over time – that Justin Trudeau, the leader of the Liberal party, has my unequivocal support in matters of domestic and foreign policy.”
Cotler also did a blitz of radio ads on behalf of Housefather during advance polling from Oct. 9 to 12.
Cotler told The CJN, “Initially, Harper made the Canadian mission in Syria conditional upon the approval of the criminal Assad regime. Later, when the mission was extended into Syria, it allowed Assad to continue his criminality with impunity… Assad should be a criminal defendant, not a coalition partner.”
He also said the government “neither briefed, nor consulted, with Opposition leaders regarding the multilateral mission, nor did it share the necessary information about the mission’s objectives, costs, command, rules of engagement, etc., so as to allow parliamentarians to make an informed decision.”
Côte St. Luc city councillor and Housefather supporter Dida Berku was outraged by Libman’s assertion.
“As a resident of Mount Royal riding and someone who has been involved in many elections and who has, for close to 20 years, worked closely with both Mr. Housefather and Mr. Libman, I am quite frankly shocked at the way the Libman campaign has abused the good name of Mr. Cotler and deliberately misled the constituents of our riding,” she told The CJN.
“I think it is a disgrace to dishonour and attack the reputation of Irwin Cotler by falsely inferring that he supports Harper for prime minister. The Conservatives and Robert Libman owe our MP an apology and they need to set the record straight. At this time of his illustrious career as a most outspoken humanitarian scholar and the most respected MP across Canada, I think Mr. Cotler deserves to be treated with respect and not have his name tarnished in this way. “
Meanwhile, Libman released a new list of people who endorse his candidacy, among them Rabbis Saul Emanuel, executive director of the Vaad Ha’ir; Yisroel Sirota of the Jewish-Russian Community Centre; philanthropists David Black, Julie Gniwisch and Sharon Azrieli Perez; Jewish educators Edmond Elbaz, Sidney Benudiz and Mendy Rosenfeld; lawyer Morden “Cookie” Lazarus; Dorel Industries head Martin Schwartz; and Olymbec owners Derek and Richard Stern.