They share similar ethno-cultural backgrounds, went to the same high school, Herzliah, and served as Côte-Saint-Luc mayor. Both admire retiring Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, and now are set to fight it out to replace him in the October federal election.
Robert Libman, an architect first elected to the National Assembly with the language-rights Equality Party in 1989, has been chosen Conservative Party candidate in Mount Royal riding, and his main opponent is Côte-Saint-Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather.
It was a tough campaign for
Libman – he called it “ferocious” – in which he faced a determined bid from former TVA television journalist Pascale Déry.
It was a contest that featured some surprising developments:
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- After campaigning for months, even as he continued as a weekly newspaper editor, Beryl Wajsman pulled out of the race, but continued to pitch for the Conservative Party on social media.
- Lawyer Neil Drabkin, a frequent though unsuccessful candidate for the Conservatives and its predecessors, entered the race as it was winding down. Five days before the actual vote, he dropped out, throwing his “support” to candidate Déry.
- Although the party says it has 3,000 members in the riding association, only 1,668 showed up to vote. (The Liberals say they have 4,700 members in the riding.)
- Libman, with his record as a language-rights activist, was not a party favourite. Déry had the active support of Public Security Minister Steven Blaney, Michelle Rempel (Minister of State for Economic
Development), Maxime Bernier (Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism), and Sen. Jacques Demers.
- As a recognizable, trilingual francophone, Déry was regarded as someone who could boost Conservative support. She, not Libman, was invited to Victoriaville to support Mayor Alain Reyes, running for the party in Richmond-Arthabaska.
- While the Conservatives were fighting it out, Housefather was campaigning, even meeting with snowbirds in Florida to garner support.
The Conservatives are counting on Prime Minister Harper’s steadfast and uncompromising support of Israel to win big among Jewish voters, including those who traditionally voted Liberal. They comprise some 35 per cent of the riding, which includes Hampstead, Côte-Saint-Luc, Town of Mount Royal, Snowdon, and the western part of Côte-des-Neiges.
In his victory speech, Libman called for unity as the only way to wrest the riding from Liberals “for the first time in 75 years.”
Conservatives believe that Mount Royal is up for grabs because Cotler, after winning 92 percent of the vote when first elected, has seen his margin diminish steadily to 41 percent in 2011 against the Conservative candidate Saulie Zajdel, a former municipal politician, now facing multiple fraud charges.
Another factor in the mix is how well the New Democratic Party candidate will fare with Mario Rimbao as candidate. Cotler enjoyed considerable support in the Filipino community, which in the 2006 Census comprised some nine percent of the riding.
Asked about the similarity between him and Housefather, Libman said, “I debated in the National Assembly, I sat on the city of Montreal executive community, was responsible for urban planning in developing the city’s urban master plan… Someone from the island of Montreal being elected with a background in urban planning could be an asset for the city, especially for Mount Royal.”
Conservative MP Denis Lebel added that Libman has Stephen Harper as a leader, while Liberal Justin Trudeau “doesn’t have the judgment to be prime minister of our country. We just have to look at the support we are giving to Israel,” he said.
An obviously disappointed Déry said she plans to take a few days to think about future plans.