MONTREAL — Former foreign affairs minister John Baird had encouraging words for Mount Royal Conservative candidate Robert Libman, who according to one poll is trailing Liberal opponent Anthony Housefather.
In his first run for political office 20 years ago, Baird said he was in third place with just 3-1/2 weeks left in the campaign. But with a final push, he won his Ottawa-area provincial seat.
Baird, who resigned from cabinet in February and from Parliament the following month, spoke at a Sept. 24 campaign event for Libman at Congregation Beth Israel Beth Aaron coincidentally on the same day as a Mainstreet/Postmedia poll showed Libman 15 points behind Housefather, who had 39 per cent support.
“This riding can be won,” said Baird.
Libman and his campaign organizers dismissed the poll as unreliable because the head of Mainstreet is a former president of the Liberal Party of Ontario.
Libman conceded the Mount Royal race is “very close” but said he viewed that poll result with skepticism.
“Our numbers are quite different,” he said. “I know if we get out the vote, we will win.” Mount Royal has been Liberal for 75 years.
Baird, 47, said he has admired Libman for his strong principles and courage to act on them since he co-founded and led the English-rights Equality Party to four seats in the National Assembly in 1989.
“[Prime Minister] Stephen Harper needs Robert Libman beside him at the cabinet table,” Baird said. “Not only will he be a forceful voice for Mount Royal, but for all of the Montreal area.”
None of the five Quebec seats the Conservatives held in the last Parliament are in the Montreal area.
About 175 people attended the public event at the Côte St. Luc synagogue. The congregation’s Rabbi Reuben Poupko said his introduction should not be interpreted as an endorsement of Libman, as he believes he should not officially support any candidate.
However, he said Libman has been a good friend for some 30 years, and he praised his honesty and decency. “He does what is right when no one is around […and] is deserving of all our support,” he said.
Rabbi Poupko also said that Harper and Baird “deserve our gratitude. John Baird was the foreign minister of the Canadian government that has been most supportive of Israel ever. That’s a fact that can’t be denied, argued or debated.”
Libman went even further and said no other government leader of any country has been as supportive of Israel since its creation.
Baird, who now works in the private sector, was praised for upholding the same moral convictions as Harper. He was particularly applauded by Libman for severing diplomatic relations with Iran in 2012 for its support of the Syria’s Assad regime and Hezbollah and Hamas, and its vows to destroy Israel.
“The great struggle of our generation is the threat of international terrorism,” Baird said, and “the Jewish People are far too often on the front line of that struggle.” Canada must be unequivocal in confronting terrorism, he said, in much the same way earlier generations fought in the two world wars.
To those who say Canada has become too favourable to Israel and is no longer an “honest broker” in the Middle East, Baird said, “You’re bloody right we’re not. We have returned to what was our policy for many decades… We should not try to be a referee.”
Canada, he said, enjoys greater respect in the Arab world today than it did 10 years ago, especially for its firm stance against Iran and in fighting ISIS.
Baird earlier attended a private fundraiser for Libman at a local car dealership. Among those present were three rabbis: Yonah Rosner of Congregation Shomrim Laboker, Asher Jacobson of Congregation Chevra Kadisha-B’nai Jacob, and Saul Emanuel, executive director of the Vaad Ha’ir.
Also that evening, Stephen Bronfman was at Housefather’s campaign office to formally endorse his candidacy. Bronfman is on the national board of the Liberal party and is its chief revenue officer and was general chair of last year’s Combined Jewish Appeal campaign in Montreal.