The federal riding of Mount Royal has been a Liberal stronghold for 70 years. Incumbent Irwin Cotler (below) has won five successive elections in 10 years, including his first effort in 1999 with an incredible 92 percent of the vote. The last time voters here witnessed a real close race was in 1984 when Sheila Finestone, who had won the right to succeed former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau as the Liberal candidate, edged out Tory challenger Sharon Wolfe by just over 4,000 votes (22,716 to 18,707).
Cotler's margin of victory has shrunk with each election, gaining 55.64 percent of the vote in 2008 versus low profile Tory Rafael Tzoubari. In light of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's strong suppport for Israel, the Tories feel they have a chance to seriously challenge Cotler. Their emissaries succeeded in luring former Montreal City Councillor Saulie Zajdel (above) out of retirement to carry the Tory banner
It has been an interesting campaign thus far, with a number of debates on the schedule. The Liberals are lucky to have someone with Cotler's reputation. He was well known as an international human rights expert before he sought public office and when the Liberals were in power he rose to become Minister of Justice. At the age of 71 he shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, I am quite amazed with the way in which he has blazed the campaign trail. He also has an exceptionally politically savvy chief of staff in Howard Liebman.
Take Wednesday night for example. Zajdel had his official campaign launch rally planned for 5 p.m. at the Gelber Conference Centre, the same locale where Cotler kick started his campaign a few days earlier. That very morning a notice to community leaders and media went out from Liebman, inviting them to a hastily called meeting with Cotler and former Prime Minister Paul Martin.
More than 200 people attended the Zajdel affair, including Tory MP Maxime Bernier, Senator Leo Housakos and a number of other candidates.
Mount Royal also has prominent Bialik High School teacher Jeff Itcush running for the NDP.
Cotler is clearly not taking Zajdel for granted. It all makes for an interesting race. Long gone are the days when folks would stay home, automatically assuming a Liberal cakewalk.