Montreal’s Mount Royal is a fortress riding that has voted Liberal in every federal election since 1940, but incumbent MP Anthony Housefather is not taking anything for granted.
He says he’s “working harder than his opponents” to ensure his re-election October 21.
On a typical Sunday early in the campaign, Housefather, 46, began by joining a Walk for Bladder Cancer in Town of Mount Royal. He then spent four hours knocking on doors in Côte Saint Luc, and later met with several tenants’ associations in Snowdon. In the evening he attended a concert, sponsored by the Bangladesh Association in Côte des Neiges.
A former mayor of Côte Saint Luc, Housefather defeated another former mayor, Robert Libman in 2015 by almost 6,000 votes. In that campaign, Mount Royal was seen as winnable under former Conservative leader Stephen Harper, who kicked off his national campaign at a rally in the riding.
Housefather has spent his entire adult life as a politician, starting when he was only 21, as a city councilor in Hampstead, then in Côte Saint Luc before becoming mayor, as an activist who fought battles for language rights as president of Alliance Quebec and against imposed mergers of island municipalities. Housefather says he’s pleased by the response, saying, “Voters know what I have achieved and they understand this election for Mount Royal is about who is the most qualified. For most of the people at the doors, I think they agree it’s me.”
His principal opponent is Conservative David Tordjman, a civil engineer and CSL’s former public works director, where he serves as a city councilor. On the campaign trail, Housefather points to his achievements on the municipal front, and in Parliament, where he cites issues related to the riding and its major communities, especially the numerically important Jewish and Filipino communities.
As freshman MP, Housefather supported the genetic non-discrimination law that since 2017 bars any person from being required to undergo a genetic test or disclose the results of a genetic test as a condition of providing goods or services or entering into a contract.
“This is hugely impactful to people in my riding, particularly those susceptible to genetic disorders,” he observed.
Of specific interest to the Jewish community, which accounts for about 30 per cent of its 74,000 electors, Housefather cites adoption by the government of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism. He also is proud of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s apology for Canada’s “discriminatory, ‘None is Too many’ immigration policy” from 1933-45 when Jews desperate to flee Europe could not come to Canada. Trudeau also apologized for turning away 907 German Jews aboard the St. Louis. The ship was forced to return to Europe where 254 of those aboard died in the Holocaust.
As chairperson of the House of Commons standing committee on Justice and Human Rights, he spearheaded a review and reinstatement of the Court Challenges Program scrapped by the Tories, which provides financial support to individuals and groups to bring before the courts cases of national significance related to official languages and human rights.
Another achievement was a study on online hate that paved the way for government intervention.
Last month, he announced $934,000 in support of the Centre for Older Adults at the Aquatic Centre in Côte Saint Luc, where people with dementia can be stimulated during the day and caregivers can get respite.
“That’s why you go into politics in the first place,” he said.
The money comes from a new $50 million federal program to help communities fight dementia. When a resident in the riding needed to import an experimental drug for cancer treatment from the US that had not yet been approved by Health Canada, Housefather intervened and helped get it certified in Canada.
Housefather was high profile as justice committee chair during televised hearings examining the SNC Lavalin controversy. Former Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould alleged that Trudeau and his top advisers had pressured her to overrule the director of criminal prosecutions. Housefather won praise for the efficient and even-handed way he handled the controversial hearings.
He said he believes WilsonRaybould “did not adequately consider the use of the remediation agreement that was adopted by the House of Commons.
“The company’s illegal acts were committed more than a decade ago, the people involved in those criminal acts have been gone from the company for a decade, and many of them have been prosecuted. This would have been a good example …..where you would consider giving a deferred prosecution agreement.” Housefather blames the conflict in part on poor communication between the prime minister’s office and Wilson-Raybould and her staff.
“I believe there was a real disconnect there. We need to learn from that.”
While his Conservative opponent criticized the Trudeau government’s record in voting at the UN when it comes to singling out Israel for criticism, Housefather counters with the actual record, compiled by the Library of Parliament, showing its voting record is far superior to that under previous Conservative and Liberal governments: Under Trudeau, Canada voted against 87% of these resolutions, compared to 61% under Harper.
On the positive side, Canada did not support any of these resolutions compared to 23% under Harper, 52 per cent under Mulroney, and 71% under Martin. In addition, Canada signed a new and expanded free trade agreement with Israel, and quadrupled funding for a program designed to enhance security and protection at minority community institutions including Jewish schools and synagogues.
Housefather did break ranks with Trudeau when he issued a statement condemning Israel for use of “excessive force” against Palestinian protesters after an Israeli sniper shot Dr. Tarek Loubani, a Canadian physician, and called for an independent investigation. He and fellow Liberal MP Michael Levitt blamed Hamas and its “stated aims of the destruction of Israel and the murder of Israelis.”
When it comes to the controversy over Justin Trudeau applying blackface and brown face at masquerade parties 18 years ago and as a high school student at Collège Jean de Brébeuf, Housefather notes that Trudeau agreed these gestures were racist and he’s apologized but says: “These pictures happened long before he went into public life and his entire life in public service contradicts what is in those pictures – his entire life in public service has been devoted to advancing the rights of minority communities including the black community in Canada.”
“I believe that comments by Andrew Scheer…. where he compared gay marriage to a dog’s tail and where he voted two years ago against enshrining the rights of gender identity and gender expression in human rights and hate crime laws are much more recent examples of intolerance than the actions of Trudeau many years ago.”
Housefather is proud of what he says is one of the Trudeau government’s most important achievements, “to bring 825,000 Canadians out of poverty. The 9.25 percent of Canadians today who fall below the poverty line is the lowest rate in my lifetime, and 825,000 fewer than in 2015 when we were elected.”
He attributes that improvement to the Canada Child Benefit, two increases of ten per cent to the Guaranteed Income Supplement, and increased funding to develop more affordable housing stocks, including for seniors. Among early promises affecting seniors, he cites the promise of a ten percent increase in Old Age Security for all 75 plus, a 25 per cent increase in survivor’s benefits, a pledge to launch a national pharmacare strategy and more funds for provinces to ensure access to family doctors.
Of interest to all seniors is boosting the basic exemption to the first $15,000 in income and a pledge, within four years, to reduce cell phone bills – among the highest in the world in Canada – by 25 per cent.