Liberal MP Irwin Cotler not running in next election

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announces that longtime MP Irwin Cotler will not be running in the next general election.

Justn Trudeau loses some front bench strength with the retirement of the long-time human rights activist

Veteran Liberal MP and former minister of justice Irwin Cotler makes his way to the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday. Cotler announced he will not be running in the next federal election. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announced Wednesday that longtime MP Irwin Cotler will not be running in the next general election.

Trudeau spoke to reporters following his party's weekly caucus meeting, and Cotler, who represents the same Montreal riding Pierre Trudeau once held, joined him.

The 73-year old Liberal human rights and international justice critic was first elected in 1999 and was Attorney General and the minister of justice in the governments of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin.

Cotler said he regretted not being able to "be engaged," as he put it, in running again in the historic Mount Royal riding, adding he probably would run if he were not one of the oldest, if not the oldest, MP in the House of Commons.

In a statement released by the Liberal Party,  Cotler said, "I am particularly proud of my time as minister, during which I introduced Canada’s first law to combat human trafficking, crafted the Civil Marriage Act – landmark legislation that extended marriage equality to gays and lesbians while at the same time guaranteeing religious freedom."

Speculation about Cotler's future as MP

There was speculation over Cotler's future this week when it was reported that Anthony Housefather, the mayor of Côte Saint-Luc, Que., was interested in the Liberal nomination in Cotler's riding.

It's not the first time Cotler dealt with speculation about his future.

In the fall of 2011, six months after the last general election, a series of robocalls from the Conservative Party were directed at people in Cotler's riding suggesting he might soon retire and asking for support if there were to be a byelection.

When Cotler complained in the House of Commons about the misleading calls, Speaker Andrew Scheer described the calls as "reprehensible."

The defeated Conservative candidate in Cotler's riding, former Montreal councillor Saulie Zajdel, was hired by then Heritage Minister James Moore at the same time the robocalls occurred.

For a while, Zajdel acted as a liaison, helping to secure arts and culture funding for the riding he said he planned to run in again. He left Moore's office in March 2012.

In July, Zajdel was picked up and arrested by police — along with former Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum — and was charged with five counts of fraud and bribery. The Mount Royal Conservative riding association has since said it has cut its ties with Zajdel.

Cotler, who first won his riding in 1999 with over 90 per cent of the vote, was asked by a reporter if his margin last time — only 46 per cent — had something to do with the substantial Jewish population in Mount Royal. 

"I did lose the Jewish vote last time. I won with the non-Jewish vote," he replied. 

Cotler, who is Jewish, continued, "What I was concerned about, in the matter of, let's say, the Israel issue, is that it was made a wedge issue. It should not be a wedge issue. The notion that was put in my riding, that if you care about Israel, you vote Conservative. I thought that was a kind of wedge politics we didn't need."

With Cotler's move, Trudeau is losing the kind of experience and institutional knowledge in the Liberal front bench that he also faced when the former Liberal interim leader, Bob Rae, retired from politics in the summer.

Cotler recently attended Nelson Mandela's memorial service in South Africa because, as an international human rights lawyer, he had served as one of Mandela's counsel while he was in prison.

Cotler, a lawyer and law professor at Montreal's McGill University, has received 10 honorary doctorates and is an officer of the Order of Canada.


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