For many who have experienced the political trip, once is more than enough. But for Robert Libman, the pull of being a player hasn’t lost its grip.
Co-founder of the Equality Party, former mayor of Côte St. Luc, and member of the Montreal executive committee, Libman is seeking the Conservative nomination in Mount Royal.
“Over time you start to miss certain aspects — being part of the debate, the decision making, part of the excitement, the energy,” he reflected in a recent chat. His sons are now 11, 15, and 24, and the family is enthusiastic about helping in the upcoming campaign, he notes. Libman’s wife, Joanne Shapiro, is a product manager at a West Island electronics firm.
“Even though you love the life away from it, (politics) is somewhat of a narcotic.”
But there is more to his decision to run for the Conservatives now that Liberal Irwin Cotler has announced he will not run in the expected October election. Because he admires Cotler, Libman said he had declined offers to run for the Tories in 2011.
Libman has his own impressive track record. He made history in 1989 when after co-founding the Equality Party, he and three others defeated incumbent Liberals in four provincial seats. It was part of a protest against then premier Robert Bourassa using the notwithstanding clause to ignore a Supreme Court of Canada ruling against French-only commercial signs.
He went on to act as regional director for B’nai Brith Canada and served as Côte St. Luc mayor and member of the city of Montreal executive committee before returning to his career as an architect.
Libman believes his background is a good fit to represent this ethnically diverse area, with Jews accounting for about 35 per cent of residents. About 32 per cent are anglophones.
Though language is not a major federal issue, Libman says his work on minority language rights is an asset, with his record as a fighter for anglo rights offering the electorate “a comfort factor.”
The Harper Conservatives are not popular in Quebec, having garnered only 11 per cent support on Montreal island in an August CROP poll published in La Presse. Mount Royal may be an exception because Conservative candidate Saulie Zajdel came second in the 2011 election, losing to Cotler by 2,260 votes. (Zajdel, who was then rewarded with a job as a ministerial aide in Ottawa, now faces charges of bribery, breach of trust, fraud and corruption allegedly committed in 2007 and 2008 when he was a Montreal city councilor.)
“Stephen Harper’s popularity in the riding is largely driven by his stance in international affairs. His support of Israel is what impressed me, and his leadership on questions of moral authority have been things that I’ve always respected about him.”
Libman first got to know Harper when he came on as a guest on his former CJAD radio show, representing the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation.
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“Personally, I’m a fiscal conservative, more to the right in economic matters. His leadership on international affairs, unwillingness to curry favour with nationalism, or dictatorships, or terrorist regimes, his clear statements of principle are something I’ve always admired in Stephen Harper.”
“From a personal conviction point of view, the positions he’s taken with regard to Israel and its place in the Middle East are things I’ve admired. The people of Mount Royal have recognized that, and I feel the community should show its appreciation for that courage in supporting him in the next election.”
Libman was less forthcoming when asked if he supported Harper’s scrapping of the long-gun registry, the compulsory long-form Census, and its tough-on-crime legislation – measures widely opposed in Quebec.
“Certain nuances and policies I am less comfortable with than others, (but) for the most part I feel very comfortable with Harper’s party. At this point I‘d rather not comment on specifics,” he said. He then shifted toward economics.
“In the spring he’s tabling a deficit-zero budget, in theory, which will allow the government to finally bring down some of the tax burden on Canadians.
“Quebecers, not unlike other Canadians, will have to evaluate who provides the best economic stewardship, (Harper) or Justin Trudeau.”
Since Mount Royal has been a Liberal stronghold since 1940, it would be a huge upset should he win. Vying for the Liberal nomination are Côte St. Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather and public relations executive Jonathan Goldbloom.
“It’s certainly a battle, not a piece of cake, but in 1989 when I won provincially in D’Arcy McGee it had been a Liberal seat in every election.”
“They used to say you could run a fire hydrant, which is red, in D’Arcy McGee as a Liberal and it would win.”
If it’s Housefather versus Libman, it would be somewhat ironic since they are friends and former colleagues. Both attended Herzliah High School in St. Laurent and served as Côte St. Luc mayors.
“It would certainly be an interesting context, but my experience is much deeper. I was an elected member of the national assembly.
“Mount Royal is the geographic epicenter of Montreal island, which in the next 10-15 years will be undergoing major infrastructure transformation: Champlain Bridge, Blue Bonnets development and the Turcot Interchange are key urban fabric issues.”
If he wins, does he expect to be in the cabinet?
Libman dodged the question, saying only that he should have a prominent role to play, given his architectural training, having been the Montreal Executive Committee member responsible for urban planning for three years and working on the city’s urban master plan.
“I can be a very valuable asset at the table in Ottawa.”
No date has yet been set for the Conservative or Liberal nomination meetings in Mount Royal. So far, only lawyer/engineer Richard Yufe has said he may seek the nomination. On the Liberal side, lawyer Howard Liebman, Cotler’s executive assistant, has said he might take the plunge.