TORONTO - In the waning months of World War II, as the Americans moved northward “up the Italian peninsula”, they rained propaganda leaflets over towns and villages and distributed “caramelle e cioccolatini” to children as an advance notice that they had come came in peace. It seemed to work, until the French let loose their North African Allies to “rape and pillage” an unsuspecting and duped population.
Since then, “caramelle e cioccolatini”, for Italians, has become a euphemism for “distrust anyone bearing gifts”, especially when the gift-bearers want what you consider to be your own.
St. Leonard – St. Michel might be considered one of those plum districts that electorally would return a Liberal, come hell or high water. In this regard, several other adjacent ridings like, Lasalle Emard, Vimy, Papineau and Honore’- Mercier, have a large Italian-Canadian population that appears to vote as a bloc.
No big deal; except that they take pride in their citizenship and they have a quasi-religious practice of voting, with turn-out percentages that make others envious. Former Premier Jean Parizeau, for whom “ethnics” was synonymous with “Italians”, blamed them (and money) for the narrow, pro-Canada outcome of the referendum in 1995.
It does not take much to understand the electoral psychology of Italo-Canadians who inhabit Laval and the West Island of Montreal. They have been caught in the “language, religious and racial wars” between the Francophone provincial majority and the Anglophone Montreal Establishment. Their only defense is political engagement and political representatives who will recognize and defend their interests as Canadians. Men or women who will be their voice in Ottawa or Quebec City, not the voice of those two jurisdictions in the Community.
So, when Nicola Di Iorio, MP for St. Leonard – St. Michel declined to run for a second term, where did the bright lights in the Liberal Campaign organization go for a replacement? You would be right if you guessed that they went to the Imam of a mosque in St. Jean sur Richelieu (40 kilometres south of Montreal), a certain Mr. Hassan Guillet, a multilingual professional, head of the association of Imams for Quebec. He might never be a successful candidate of choice in St. Jean sur Richelieu, but St. Leonard- St Michel o®ered a direct path entry into the House of Commons, and possibly Cabinet.
Party officials vehemently denied any tampering in the process to determine the eventual nominee, protesting in fact that they did everything possible to meet the logistical needs of another candidate. Pablo Rodriguez, MP for Honore’-Mercier, a riding where Italian-Canadians hold the key to about 25% of the vote, and Chair for Quebec Campaign, apparently actively endorsed Hassan Guillet’s potential candidacy or promoted the concept as acceptable to Justin Trudeau.
In the ensuing weeks since Imam Guillet’s nomination, on May 28, the negative response by the Community at what it considered to be a blatant and disrespectful manipulation by the Party (referencing in particular Quebec Chair Rodriguez, National Chair Bains – whom they accuse of insinuating his proxies for the upcoming Leadership struggles – and pro-Muslim, anti- Europeans, Immigration Minister Hussen) prompted a veritable blizzard of “caramelle e cioccolatini”.
To no avail. Poor Guillet was doomed to the dust bin. After more than Eighteen months of being courted and feted, at the end of August, he found himself at the humiliating receiving end of a decision to revoke his nomination. The stated cause: allegations of anti-Semitic, anti-Israel statements made in the past.
A press release by the B’nai B’rith (a Jewish right-wing organization) calling for his excommunication caused the Liberal Party Brass to execute on their request with lightening speed - that very day on August 30.
A bewildered Guillet professed shock. Why not? He had the apparent support of three organizations which had arranged for him to be a guest speaker at the prestigious Holy Blossom synagogue in Toronto, on June 17. They are the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and J Space (a progressive Jewish Voice for moderation and Social Justice).
The trio boasts among their Directors and members of the Advisory Boards well-known known activists like Karen Mock, Bernie Farber and Evan Bolgard, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Journalists and Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs. They would have known, or should have know, about Guillet’s “history”.
Perhaps Guillet’s background didn’t matter then. It didn’t appear to matter to Pablo Rodriguez, Chairman of the Green Light Committee for the Liberal Campaign in Quebec, or to National Chairman Nav (Singh) Bains.
Curiously, it does now. Sensing electoral toxicity, the Bains Rodriguez team are in full damage control as the Election Campaign gets off to an o¯cial start. It took a first step by appointing the second placed candidate Patricia Lattanzio for Saint Leonard- Saint Michel.
Look for that sack of “caramelle e cioccolatini”.