Harper returns to Quebec to be feted by influential Montreal Jewish council

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper returns today to Quebec, a province where his party hopes to make major gains in this fall’s election.

And he’s being honoured by a community which holds considerable sway over whether those gains will include a seat in Montreal.

The riding of Mount Royal is up for grabs this fall with Liberal MP Irwin Cotler stepping down.

About 30 per cent of the riding identified as Jewish in the last census — making the electoral district one of only a handful in the country where that community can swing an election if it votes en masse.

The Liberals have held the seat since 1940, but Montreal’s influential Jewish Community Council appears set to give its stamp of approval to Harper.

The council is a religious organization, primarily concerned with certifying whether products are kosher and on Thursday’s evening it will give the prime minister its King David Award.

“The King David Award is presented to an individual who is a light unto the world,” reads a description of the honour on the event’s Facebook page. “One whose courage, strength, intelligence and faithfulness are examples and inspirations for us all.

“This year’s honouree has gone over and above the call of duty in every one of those attributes.”

Harper’s vocal support for Israel has drawn consistent praise from many segments of the Jewish community, who traditionally voted for the Liberals.

Nowhere is that shift clearer than in Montreal.

The Conservatives last won Mount Royal in 1935 and it was Pierre Trudeau’s seat for almost 20 years. In 2011, Cotler won with 41 per cent of the vote; three years earlier, he took 55 per cent.

While the Conservatives have their eye on this seat, they see more room for growth in other regions of Quebec, specifically around the capital and farther north.

Currently, there are only five Conservative MPs from Quebec and one isn’t running again. International Development Minister Christian Paradis announced earlier this year he won’t stand for re-election.

But rather than take that as a hit, Conservatives say they actually see it as an opportunity to bring another new voice to their slate of candidates in order to breathe new life into their political fortunes.

That roster to date now includes popular municipal and provincial politicians and the former head of Quebec City’s iconic winter carnival, all joining the team as polls suggest support for the Conservatives in Quebec is on the upswing.

The party attributes the gains to the messaging on the economy and national security — and the latter will be the theme of Harper’s other stop in the province Thursday.

He’s scheduled to make an announcement at the Montreal airport alongside Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney and Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel, the prime minister’s Quebec lieutenant.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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