Three cabinet ministers turned out to support Rachel Bendayan, who is running for the federal Liberals in the Montreal riding of Outremont, in the Feb. 25 byelection.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s presence at her Jan. 15 campaign launch appeared to be an appeal to the multicultural citizens of the riding, which extends well beyond the borough of Outremont into the Mile End and Côte-des-Neiges districts.
Bendayan, 38, referred to her own parents, who immigrated from Morocco in the 1950s, and growing up in the Côte-des-Neiges “mosaic.”
Also speaking were Mary Ng, the minister of small business and export promotion, and the new Montrealer in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s inner circle, Justice Minister David Lametti.
Her campaign office in a former high-end dress shop on Bernard Avenue was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with cheering supporters. Bendayan, a lawyer and longtime party stalwart, ran unsuccessfully in Outremont in the 2015 election.
Her supporters reflected the riding’s ethnic and religious diversity, and several Hasidic men were among them.
“She’s a great candidate; we are looking forward to seeing her elected,” prominent Hasidic community member Max Lieberman told The CJN.
Historically a Liberal stronghold, Outremont was flipped by the NDP in 2007, when former provincial Liberal cabinet minister Tom Mulcair entered federal politics. He was only the second NDP candidate ever elected in Quebec.
The beachhead he secured foreshadowed the “Orange Wave” that washed over the province in 2011. The support of the Hasidim, who would never have previously considered voting for the NDP, was not insignificant in Mulcair’s upset.
Mulcair, who was the NDP leader from 2012 to 2017, resigned from politics in August.
Hussen touted his government’s openness to immigration. “You’ve heard some people want to build a wall, who want to exclude talent and skills that we need?” he asked rhetorically.
The Trudeau government is doing the opposite by welcoming more immigrants, not fewer, and the policy is paying off economically, said Hussen, who claimed that Canada is now “the most productive” country in the G7.
“Talent and investment flow into Canada when we focus on middle-class families and not the one per cent,” he said.
He also said Canada is “setting an example” for the world by having “gender parity” in the cabinet, and that, too, is bringing about “positive change.”
Lametti recalled that Bendayan was a bright student of his when he was a law professor at McGill University and that she went on to have a “fantastic legal career.” She was a lawyer with the firm Norton Rose Fulbright before taking leave to prepare for her 2015 election run.
After her defeat by 4,645 votes to Mulcair, she worked for the Liberal party professionally, most recently as chief of staff to then-small business minister Bardish Chagger.
Bendayan, who lives in Outremont, then took maternity leave to have her first child last year.
In December, she defeated Kim Manning, a Concordia University political science professor, to win the Liberal nomination.
In her address, Bendayan raised the spectre of a shift to the political right around the world and among some Canadians.
The Liberals seek “to protect and defend the Canadian values that are so dear to us,” she said, deploring the “rhetoric, misinformation, division and hate that we see today.”
Bendayan described the Trudeau government as “compassionate.”
“When the UN calls, we say ‘yes’, holding true to our principles and values,” she said.
She listed the government’s achievements, such as “creating 800,000 jobs and the lowest unemployment rate in 40 years,” and providing leadership on the environment, which, she claimed, the Conservatives “do not believe is an issue.”
Bendayan boasts of having knocked on 32,000 doors in the riding since 2015. Although she has been involved with the party since she was a student some 20 years ago, Bendayan’s public profile was not high.
She is presenting herself as a wife and mother who understands the needs of middle-class families in a neighbourhood in which she has deep roots.
Bendayan claims to have played “a key role in developing” the government’s encouragement of women’s entrepreneurship and says she is concerned about small businesses.
The NDP candidate is political newcomer Julia Sanchez, whose nomination was confirmed in August. According to her website, she has worked for more than 20 years in international co-operation and development. A former managing director of the Global Campaign for Climate Action, she says the environment is her top priority.
“The NDP has represented the people of Outremont for the last ten [sic] years and I intend to work hard to keep earning their trust!” she posted on Facebook after filing her papers with the returning officer on Jan. 15.
In December, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh joined Sanchez in touring the riding. Sanchez is from Montreal, but had lived in Ottawa for seven years, before moving to Outremont.
The Conservative candidate is Jasmine Louras, a University of Ottawa law student who interned at the U.S. State Department. The party says she is “heavily involved in the local communities of Outremont,” and has “made her mark in the Montreal startup scene.”
Louras started the Hellenic-Jewish Partnership, which “helps promote bonds and friendships between the Greek and Jewish community.”