He: “I’m going to have glass of wine with you.”
She: “Sounds good to me.”
A clandestine hookup? Hardly, but this exchange could signal a refreshing spirit of conviviality between rivals on opposite sides of the House of Commons aisle.
That Twitter conversation was between Michael Levitt, Liberal MP for York Centre, and Michelle Rempel, Conservative MP Calgary Nose Hill, as she travelled by train from Ottawa to their rendezvous in Montreal.
It was flashed on a screen at a hip venue in Griffintown where 425 young adults and 30 elected officials mingled recently at the annual Action Party hosted by CJPAC (Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee). The event provides Jewish and other pro-Israel people in their 20s and 30s the opportunity to meet and have a drink with politicians in a clubby, fun atmosphere. Tickets were $80 in advance, $100 at the door.
Rempel came in along with about 55 unelected guests from the nation’s capital for the party held at Le Studio in a former industrial building.
It had been transformed into a chic, dimly lit venue with a DJ on high playing continuous funky music. One bar featured exotic cocktails made with two Quebec products, Romeo’s Gin and Pure Vodka, by juggling bartenders, while another stocked premium whiskeys. Kosher hors d’oeuvres helped absorb the alcohol.
There were no speeches and the elected people were only distinguishable by their nametags.
Twenty MPs from four parties were present, including two leaders: the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair (joined by foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière) and Rhéal Fortin of the Bloc Québécois.
Federal cabinet ministers accounted for were: Mélanie Joly (Canadian Heritage) and Diane Lebouthillier (National Revenue). Also notable were Conservative leadership contenders Maxime Bernier and Michael Chong.
Only two MNAs attended, sparse because the National Assembly was sitting during these final intense days of the session before the summer break, explained Jonathan Kalles, CJPAC director for Quebec and the Atlantic region.
They were Jean-François Lisée, who is running for the Parti Québécois leadership, and Benoit Charrette of Coalition Avenir Québec.
Among municipal politicians was Montreal executive committee member Lionel Perez who tweeted that it was “the best party in town.”
CJPAC, founded in 2005, describes itself as a national, independent, multi-partisan organization. Its mandate is to “engage Jewish and pro-Israel Canadians [of all ages] in the democratic process and to foster active political participation” in the party of their choice.
One of CJPAC’s most successful programs is a fellowship for university students, intensive training over two years in how politics works.
More than 250 fellows have “graduated” over CJPAC’s history and 44 are currently enrolled. Two recent alumni were eager to talk about how much they benefited from the experience.
Brandon Silver, 22, who recently graduated in law from the University of Ottawa, has just been hired as project manager of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, which was founded by former MP Irwin Cotler after he left politics last year.
“The fellowship program was an opportunity to get involved politically, and gain great skills,” he said. “It was also a great experience to meet people of all backgrounds and political stripes from across the country.”
Silver found the program an excellent complement to his studies, and led to his serving as a policy intern in the office of MP Sean Casey, the former Liberal justice critic.
Kelly Bryant of Vancouver, 20, currently at Carleton University, found the fellowship “a perfect fit” as a Jewish student and a political science major who had just come back from an Israel trip. She found it “really amazing,” offering a chance to understand political engagement in way she could not have elsewhere.
It led to her interning at CJPAC’s head office in Toronto last summer. Now Bryant is working for the Liberal Party of Canada, co-ordinating its summer internship program in MPs’ offices.
François Messier, 33, a video games creator, said he came to network more for business than politics.
“A friend who works for the Liberal party told me this is the place to be.” He admitted he only had a “vague” understanding of what CJPAC was about, but did understand it advocates for Israel.
Present with a more serious mission was Ensaf Haidar, wife of Raif Badawi, a Saudi human rights activist and blogger who has been in prison in Saudi Arabia since 2012 for “insulting Islam.” Haidar, who found refuge in Canada in 2013 and is living in Sherbrooke with their three children, leads a worldwide campaign for her husband’s release.
She attended the event with journalist Evelyne Abitbol, co-founder and executive director of the Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom.
According to Abitbol, Badawi is pro-Israel and is openly critical of Hamas. Cotler championed for Badawi as an MP and continues to do so through the Wallenberg Centre.