Potential successors include Côte St-Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather


MONTREAL – Veteran Liberal MP Irwin Cotler will not seek another term as the member of Parliament for Mount Royal.

Cotler, who was first elected in a landslide victory in 1999 but has seen support for his party diminish in the years since, confirmed on Wednesday that he plans to retire from political life after his current term ends in May 2015.

“There comes a point … where one has to pass the torch to the younger generation,” Cotler, 73, told The Gazette on Wednesday, shortly after making the announcement in Ottawa. “I felt that, to be fair to those who may seek to run, to let it be known as soon as possible that the seat is open.”

Cotler, a law professor and tireless human rights advocate, emphasized that he will continue to serve his constituents and act as a full-fledged member of Parliament until next year’s federal election campaign is over, and that he will support and campaign alongside whoever is chosen to carry the Liberal banner in Mount Royal.

Cotler’s riding — once represented by former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau — has long been a Liberal stronghold. Cotler was first elected in 1999 with a staggering 92 per cent of the vote, but support for the federal party has been slipping in Mount Royal since that time.

In 2011, the Conservatives came within six points of unseating the former federal Justice Minister and replacing him with star candidate Saulie Zajdel. The latter is now facing numerous charges in connection with alleged bribes paid to officials in the Côte-des-Neiges — Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough, and is therefore unlikely to try his luck again in 2015.

Cotler acknowledged that 2011 was not a good year for the party. The Liberals were left with only seven seats in Quebec when the dust settled.

“I suspect there will be a strong turnaround with the leadership of Justin (Trudeau),” he noted.

Potential successors are already jockeying for position in anticipation of Cotler’s departure, with current Côte St-Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather the early favourite to win the nomination. Housefather began an initial push last week to drum up support, sending out a letter to potential backers making it clear he wants the job.

According to Cotler, the 44-year-old Housefather would make “a very good candidate.”

“He knows the issues,” Cotler said. “Anthony was actually a former law student of mine, and I remember him as a student being very engaged in the issues of the day. He has remained that way all these years.”

Reached on Wednesday afternoon following Cotler’s announcement, Housefather confirmed he intends to pursue the nomination and that he hopes to speak directly to Cotler in the coming days.

“If I run, I believe I’ll have the vast bulk of elected officials in the riding supporting me,” he said, adding that he’ll also be working to win support among community groups and individual voters.

“I wouldn’t enter any race if I didn’t think I could win. This riding is trending Conservative, and I think that if I became the candidate, I would be able to draw people back … based on personal support.”

There were rumours that Cotler’s chief of staff, Howard Liebman, was another possible successor — but he has reportedly decided not to seek the nomination. The Liberals are expected to hold open nomination meetings in all ridings across the country as early as this spring.

For now, Cotler promised it will be business as usual in his office.

“I’ve loved serving the people of Mount Royal,” he said. “It is a riding that I grew up in, lived in, treasure and will continue to be engaged with — both until the end of my mandate and beyond.

“It’s been a privilege and a pleasure.”


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Irwin Cotler — Career Highlights


Former law professor at McGill University, now Professor Emeritus. Cotler has also been a visiting professor at Harvard University and a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at Yale Law School.

Served as counsel to numerous prisoners of conscience around the world, including Nelson Mandela, Natan Sharansky, Saad Eddin Ibrahim and Jacobo Timerman.

Elected to Parliament for the first time in 1999 with 92 per cent of the vote. Re-elected in five subsequent federal elections, most recently in 2011 with 47 per cent of the vote.

Named federal justice minister and attorney general by former prime minister Paul Martin in 2003.

Appointed two female justices to the Supreme Court of Canada, making it the most gender representative Supreme Court in the world. Appointed the first aboriginal justice and first visible minority justice to an appellate court.

Crafted the Civil Marriage Act, legislation that granted marriage equality to gays and lesbians.

Introduced Canada’s first-ever human trafficking legislation as well as legislation for the protection of children and other vulnerable persons.

Initiated Canada’s first prosecution under the War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity Act.

Played an instrumental role in ensuring the inclusion of civil liberties protections in the Anti-Terrorism Act and later initiated the first prosecution under that legislation.

Recipient of 10 honorary doctorates and an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Source: Office of Irwin Cotler

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette