Why wouldn't Jewish leaders want to meet Dumont?

He's leader of the opposition and premier-in-waiting

[e-mail this page to a friend]

The Gazette, Monday, June 18, 2007

Lots of people have been to Leo Kolber's house for drinks or dinner over the years. Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien, Paul Martin, Shimon Peres, Rene Levesque, Frank Sinatra, Danny Kaye, even Reggie Jackson.

And now, Mario Dumont. Full disclosure, I've been there, too, many times during the year Kolber and I were working on his bestselling autobiography. I can attest it's a table to get your feet under, for the quality of the talk as well as the food.

It turns out Dumont was there for a private dinner with influential members of the Jewish community three weeks ago this Thursday, when he wasn't available to meet Jean Charest in Quebec City over the budget impasse.

But nothing happens in Quebec City that Denis Lessard, senior correspondent of La Presse, doesn't pick up on, and last Thursday the paper's banner headline was: "Mario Dumont courted by the Jewish community."

So what? Why wouldn't Kolber and leading members of the Jewish community be getting to know the leader of the opposition? The Jewish and anglophone communities have too long been held hostage by the Liberals, why wouldn't they find out Dumont's views on health and education? For that matter, why wouldn't they want to know what he meant by reasonable accommodation?

And why would Dumont publicize a private meeting? There was certainly nothing clandestine about it, as he has since pointed out.

But to hear tell, the mystery about Dumont's whereabouts indicates a fatal flaw of character. "On a night when he should have been in Quebec City to talk about the budget and to be here," said the premier, "when the life of our government was threatened, he was somewhere else, and he didn't tell you the truth, and he didn't tell Quebecers the truth."

Really, Mr. Premier, give yourself a shake.

Charest should be more concerned about the names of the people, starting with the host, sitting around the dinner table at Kolber's place on Summit Circle.

Kolber himself was among those who urged Charest to make the jump from federal to provincial politics in the spring of 1998. Later that year, Kolber raised $750,000 in a single fundraiser for Charest, simply by inviting 250 people to a cocktail at $3,000 each - the legal limit. Afterward, Kolber was somewhat taken aback when Charest forgot to call and thank him.

Kolber is the all-time champion fundraiser for the federal and provincial Liberals in Quebec. Once, at the request of Jean Chretien's top advisers, he organized a series of small dinners at 24 Sussex Dr. that raised $1.5 million for the federal Liberals' 1997 campaign in Quebec.

Steve Cummings would be a close second, and that Cummings, according to the story, was at Kolber's soiree for Dumont should really give Charest and the Quebec Liberals something to think about.

Cummings is also a Liberal bagman. Charest's bagman. He has raised millions for Charest in the Jewish community, and his influence goes well beyond that community. The Cummings family is old Jewish money, very low profile and discreet. And if the name Max Cummings rings a bell, that's because there wouldn't be a Montreal Museum of Fine Arts worth visiting without the generous support of this family over decades.

So if these guys are meeting with Mario, that should be a big flashing light to Charest that the Jewish community is annoyed at him. It began when Charest and his office bungled the announcement of funding the compulsory curriculum part of the Jewish private schools. Other ethnic schools are similarly funded, without controversy, but this announcement sparked a furor with ugly undertones of anti-Semitism in the francophone media, and Charest had to withdraw funding he had specifically promised Kolber and other leaders of the Jewish community.

Then, after he was reduced to a minority in March, Charest relegated former revenue minister Lawrence Bergman to the backbenches, which has caused the same backlash in the Jewish community as the demotion of Geoff Kelley among anglophones.

As for talking to Dumont, there are community issues such as the Jewish General Hospital, the fourth-largest in Quebec, though less than one-quarter of its clientele is Jewish. Briefing Dumont on a hospital largely funded from private donations would have been part of the conversation.

Three months ago, these people wouldn't have given Dumont a cup of coffee. But then three months ago, he was the leader of the third party in the legislature, with almost no recognition in the House, plenty any staff and no money. Now, he's leader of the opposition, with big offices in Quebec and Montreal, dozens of staff, a car, driver, and very promising prospects as premier-in-waiting.

Everyone wants to meet him now.

  © Copyright 2006-2012 L. Ian MacDonald. All Rights Reserved. Site managed by Jeremy Leonard