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Monday, September 22, 2014

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Legitmacy of 'pending byelection' poll challenged

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Irwin Cotler

MONTREAL — Irwin Cotler is objecting to a poll conducted in his Mount Royal riding asking constituents how they would vote in a “pending byelection,” insinuating that he is about to resign.

Cotler said in the House of Commons Nov. 16 that the dissemination of such “patently false” information “impedes the exercise of my parliamentary functions…

“I believe this matter constitutes a prima facie breach of my parliamentary privilege and prejudices the work of this House and the institution.”

Cotler, 71, has been a member of Parliament since 1999.

Aide Howard Liebman said calls to Cotler’s riding office from constituents who had been polled started coming in Thursday, Nov. 10, and continued into last week.

Cotler told the House that an Ontario-based market research firm called Campaign Research, which has ties to both the federal and provincial Conservatives, conducted the poll.

Cotler said his constituents are being asked whether they plan to support the Conservative Party in a “pending, if not imminent byelection.”

Liebman said the numerous callers were unanimous that the question was not posed as a hypothetical one.

“One person pressed the pollster, and he said, ‘Trust us, Cotler is resigning.’ Another pollster said they were working for the Conservatives,” Liebman said.

“This is what is called ‘push polling,’” he added, referring to a political campaign technique designed to influence public opinion under the guise of an impartial survey.

Cotler made the complaint in the House as a point of privilege, and he now awaits the ruling of Speaker Andrew Scheer on whether a motion can be moved to have the matter investigated by committee.

“Constituents are asking my office and myself when will this imminent, but as I said, non-existent byelection, in fact be occurring?” Cotler told the Commons. “Calls have come in asking – and constituents are surprised, if not shocked, by this – whether I am still serving.

“Such questions cause damage to my reputation and credibility and would do so to any member of the House.”

Cotler did not state that he has no intention of vacating the seat before the end of his current mandate.

“Simply put, I have made no announcement about stepping down as the member of Parliament for Mount Royal,” he told the House. “While others might… think that I am stepping down, there is in fact no byelection planned or pending.

“Any suggestion otherwise falsely offers a critique that I am not present here in Ottawa and working for my constituents in an ongoing way on matters of concern to them and on matters of concern to this House.”

Cotler was re-elected last May with 41 per cent of the vote in a closely fought campaign against Conservative candidate Saulie Zajdel who received over 35 per cent. About one-third of the electorate is Jewish, and Zajdel emphasized among these voters that the Harper government’s record on Israel was much more favourable than that of the Liberals.

After the election, Zajdel was engaged as a regional adviser to Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore.

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