High stakes drama in St Leonard St Michel: Italians as onlookers

di Joe Volpe del September 2, 2019

TORONTO - It was an experiment, no, a ploy “too cute by a half”, that went sour just before the election. The residents of the federal constituency of St Leonard- St Michel may not like being used as a laboratory.

The constituency has always gone Liberal, even in the worst of times. Maybe because its an “ethnic riding” or because it is decidedly lower middle-class. At $48,700.00 median household income, it ranks 335 out of 338 ridings - $11,000.00 less than the Quebec median and a full $22,000.00 less than the Canadian median.

Or maybe because there is something in the DNA of Montrealers whose origin is Italian that compels them to vote Liberal. Just under 10% of the 113,000 residents speak Italian at home – they are also Francophone and Anglophone, as an ethnic group, edging in total about 40% of the population. Since 1984, it has elected an MP of Italian background.

This time, “somebody” on the campaign team – “the green light committee”, chaired by Minister Pablo Rodriguez, either invited or encouraged an Imam, Mr. Hassan Guillet, from a Mosque outside the riding, to present himself as a candidate. The Italian residents would get used to it – they always do. They voted for Ahmed Hussein, a former refugee, whose connection to York-South Weston was that he would go to Rustic Bakery for a coffee during the election.

Mr. Guillet, a professional engineer formerly employed by the Bombardier corporation, and with enviable professional qualifications, could make for a great “cameo” and shore up the Muslim vote elsewhere.
Done! Yes. some constituents couldn’t understand how two equally professionally prepared local candidates, Patricia Lattanzio and Francesco Cavaleri, both with an organic organization could lose. They did.

Mr. Guillet was happy. The residents who contacted the Corriere and Community Leadership were a little less so. Bewildered at being “outdone” they sulked but “bit the bullet”.

The B’nai B’rith evidently did not. On August 30, just as Canadians were readying for the long weekend, the Jewish advocacy organization demanded that the Liberal Party revoke his candidacy for some of his past statements now deemed anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. It did.

Equally evident, Minister Rodriguez’ Green Light Committee had either not vetted Mr. Guillet properly, or didn’t care. Mr. Guillet responded to a telephone request for an interview with a copy of a press release he issued in response to the Party’s action (no spokespersons identified).

“I am completely shocked by the decision of the Liberal Party of Canada to unilaterally withdraw my candidacy…” he said. “I confirm that I am not anti-Semitic… I campaign and will always campaign against all forms of racism including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.”

What will he do now? Indeed, what will Minister Rodriguez’ Committee do? Mr. Guillet adds that…” I have not resigned… and I am studying my options.” He is holding a press Conference Wednesday to elaborate.

Neither Ms. Lattanzio nor Mr. Cavaleri responded to phone calls or text messages.

Minister Rodriguez will have been busy this weekend. The B’nai B’rith might have been as well. It was involved in a similar case in Eglinton Lawrence, in 1979 -1980, in support of an Anglican priest. They sought a court injunction to prevent THE nationally recognized feminist of time from contesting the nomination the priest had claimed he had previously won fair and square.

If Mr. Guillet cannot be dissuaded from his position, Minister Rodriguez may have to turn elsewhere to get out of the mess.

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