Has Our Community Helped Push Coderre Away from Power?

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Hussein Hoballah, Montreal

Valérie Plante, Montreal’s first female mayoress has secured another administration term. The politician first made it to mayoral power in 2017, surprising many, including then-Mayor Denis Coderre.

Plante, Montreal’s 45th mayoress has made campaign promises like ameliorating the city’s environment, upgrading public transport, and providing affordable housing.

Plante’s Sunday victory has struck Ensemble Montreal’s leader Denis Coderre hard, and it might end his political life, especially that this is the second time (after 2017) Plante defeats him in the elections.

Coderre’s loss is the outcome of different reasons. Lebanese-Canadian Montreal city councillor and Ensemble Montreal member Aref Salem believes Coderre’s lost because “focus was more on his person than on his very important and thoughtful political platform.” Showing his opinion during Sunday’s CanAr TV interview by Mr Hassan Guillet, Salem admitted that “mistakes have certainly been made during the election campaign, and we’ve paid the price. We could have worked better, but eventually the voters have the final say, and they’ve made up their minds on whom to vote for, so we have to respect that.”

Coderre’s and others’ defeat has, in contrast, relieved many people of our community. In an answer to a questionnaire B’nai B’rith issued last month, Coderre said he was fully committed to the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism, which conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Plante’s party, however, has not responded to B’nai B’rith questionnaire.

Therefore, the question is: has our community helped push Coderre away?

To answer this question, city councillor Aref Salem says, “Ensemble Montreal is still in advanced positions in the regions with Arab and Muslim populations in Saint-Laurent, Cartierville, Ahuntsic, Saint-Leonard and Montreal North, and it’s still early to speak about any such inferences.”

At the beginning, confusion regarding whom to vote for seemed obvious amongst voters of our community. But Sada al-Mashrek has learnt that many have eventually decided not to vote for Coderre after hearing of his stances, which conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. They have however, voted for Arab candidates on Coderre’s electoral lists, like Saint-Laurent borough’s Aref Salem, Montreal North borough’s Sari Abdul Haq, and Saint-Leonard electoral district’s Arij El Korbi. Salem makes use of this fact to point out that “more Muslim and ethnic members belong to our party than to Projet Montreal.” That shows the relationship with candidates of Arab and Muslim origins isn’t bound by voting for the party leader.

Another important issue that must be very well considered is that the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism “hasn’t been as important to voters as other issues.” Montreal voters don’t think the issue is a priority; they would rather highlight issues like housing, which Plante has addressed in her victory speech, saying she would prioritise tackling the city’s housing crisis in the first 100 days of her second mayoral term. Besides, Quebec’s media did not bother to address the issue of the IHRA definition during the election campaign but instead focused on the candidates’ personal affairs.

Our community hasn’t taken interest in the IHRA definition because of different reasons, including not knowing of Coderre’s stance early enough, even though the issue was raised in 2020 when Ensemble Montreal presented a motion to city council to endorse the IHRA definition. Unbacked by Plante’s administration at the time, and opposed by activists of our community and other organisations, especially Independent Jewish Voices, the motion was dismissed. The issue was brought to attention again ahead of the municipal elections, when B’nai B’rith announced Coderre’s standpoint.

Perhaps Sada al-Mashrek was the only media outlet that addressed the subject at different instances last year, focusing on the incident occurring during Coderre’s visit to the masjid of Saint Laurent’s Islamic Centre of Quebec. Sada al-Mashrek’s report drew the attention of many people of our community. (https://www.sadaalmashrek.ca/ar/Community/content/96de73be-3fa3-4d76-bcf6-eaf39c393a47)

What helped reduce interest in challenging the IHRA controversy was the silence of many groups of our community. Even though they were aware of the issue, there were things that pulled them back. Though some of those things might be understandable, the others show that a major cause is being overlooked by some people, who fear the reprisal of the groups promoting the IHRA among politicians. Therefore, this issue must be very well debated. Questions like why some have been ignoring it must be tackled, especially when IHRA endorsers are boldly announcing their endorsements. Because we don’t actively participate in the elections, they believe our votes are limited, and they’re are showing no regard to our community.

Another major topic brought to attention during every election campaign is our community’s voting rate. The problem is always with little participation, so this needs serious efforts before it could be solved.

In time of the municipal elections, a number of people were actively involved in canvassing for the two major teams, and that’s important because we need to be present alongside all parties. Even though our advocates had predicted effective participation in canvassing, it is still early to determine the canvassers’ percentage and tell if it was sufficient or not. Anyhow, not many Quebeckers have made it to the ballot centres, perhaps not even 40%, nor has our community participated well enough. But everyone has to know that our value, strength, and presence are determined by the rate of our participation in any elections. In this regard, Salem says, “If we make a 100,000 voters but only 2,000 vote, it means our value is worth 2% of our actual size.” So the percentage tells how narrow our influence is and how limited the respect we get from politicians is.

Many of our community members’ names have been on the electoral lists of all parties in many cities of Quebec, but only a few have won. Anyway, it’s a good sign that they’ve run for the municipal elections, showing a sense of responsibility and seeking to take part in making political decisions related to citizens’ lives.

We need to upgrade the progress we are making as we head towards a place among people of general influence and future-shaping impact. We very much hope that we make more calculated steps along the way, which can be secured by wider-scale planning and coordination among advocates. That’s the right thing to do to provide our sons and daughters a better future, protect them, and safeguard their identities. Besides, that’s the only way to get ourselves valued in time for any elections.