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Friday, December 26, 2014

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Jews will almost certainly vote Liberal – again

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Lawrence Bergman

MONTREAL — With a Quebec election slated for Sept. 4, the day after Labour Day, indications are that the province’s Jewish community will once again be among the Liberal government’s most dependable supporters at the ballot box – even if they’re holding their noses.

Premier Jean Charest dissolved the national assembly last week in order to seek a fourth straight mandate, and the Jewish community, like many other Quebecers, seems to have grown weary and cynical about allegations of widespread corruption in the construction industry, alleged “French-only” treatment of anglophones when dealing with Quebec officials, skyrocketing taxes and collapsing road infrastructure.

But that doesn’t mean the vast majority of Quebec Jews – who almost all live in Montreal’s west end, as well as in West Island ridings – will vote for anyone other than Liberal candidates.

Quebec Jews seem glumly resigned to the real possibility that the next government could be led by the Parti Québécois, which is never a welcome development for a staunchly federalist community that has already endured two referendums on sovereignty.

In general, ties between the community and Charest have been strong, even though Jewish leaders did meet twice over the past year with officials from the Coalition d’avenir du Québec (CAQ), a new party that’s seeking Jewish – and other Quebecers’ – votes.

Pundits were speculating last week that either of the two main parties could prevail – possibly with a minority government – although the PQ had been clinging to a slight lead, and most political handicappers were predicting a PQ victory, despite the reported unpopularity of its leader, Pauline Marois.

In west-end D’Arcy McGee, the only majority-Jewish riding in the province, veteran Liberal MNA Lawrence Bergman, 71, can safely rely on constituents voting him in for a sixth term.

In the last provincial election, in 2008, Bergman garnered almost 90 per cent of the vote, and his level of support has almost always been that high since he was first elected in 1994 with a low-by-comparison 65 per cent of the vote, ahead of Equality Party leader Robert Libman.

In April, Bergman had no challenger at the riding’s Liberal nomination meeting, held at a local synagogue. One of his strongest supporters has been community leader and CJN board member Steven Cummings.

Bergman, who most recently had been serving as chair of the government caucus, has been credited with persuading Charest to approve construction of Pavilion K at the Jewish General Hospital.  The Liberal government contributed $95 million to the project, in addition to pledging another $300 million for three other construction phases at the hospital through 2016.

Bergman has also reportedly had Charest’s ear, meeting with him every Tuesday morning for 90 minutes.

Rabbi Reuben Poupko of Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation said that while it’s too early to say which party will win, “we look forward to an election where there is a high-minded debate on the issues facing Quebecers.”

In an apparent reference to “reasonable accommodation,” an issue that divided minority and majority Quebecers and was prominent in 2008, Rabbi Poupko said:  “We hope that no politicians would try to appeal to nativist or xenophobic sentiment that exists among a small minority of Quebecers.”

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