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Our Man in Montreal

Machla Abramovitz

Lionel Perez jumped into politics just four years ago, but his impact is being felt all over Quebec, where he’s being hailed as a civic champion for upholding religious rights.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

LionelPerez’s office in Montreal’s city hall is large and bright, with imposing oak-encased windows that overlook the Old City.He calmly welcomes me into his office, apologizing that our meeting might be interrupted by phone calls. On this morning in May, he had held a press conference to release an annual report on the state of the city’s bridges, tunnels, and overpasses — a sore subject in Montreal. In 2008, concrete slabs fell off an overpass in the city, killing one person and injuring others. An investigation ensued, andPerez, the city council member tasked with upgrading the city’s aging infrastructure, was anticipating a number of calls from the local media.Not exactly what he imagined doing for a living when he was growing up as a frum boy in Montreal’s Côte-des-Neiges neighborhood. But then again, as Perez readily admits, his entire life has been shaped by Hashgachah pratis.Soft-spoken and engaging,Perez, 43, is fluent in both English and French — and very busy. As one of only 11 executive committee members of Montreal’s newly elected city council, his boss,MayorDenisCoderre, assigned him some of the city’s most challenging tasks. Besides overseeing the rehabilitation of Montreal’s infrastructure, he also manages city contracts and their procurement process, yet another area that garnered a public inquiry, ongoing since October 2011, after allegations of corruption.But his biggest fight came just last year, when Perez found himself at the center of a large civic debate after he challenged legislation introduced by the governing Parti Québécois that would have prohibited the wearing of religious headgear — yarmulkes and hijabs — in government-sponsored workplaces. For someone who entered politics just four years ago, his rise to public prominence still leaves him incredulous. “If someone had told me four years ago I was going to be a major contributor and in the middle of a heated and divisive societal debate — that I would be the ‘poster child’ opposing this proposed legislation — I would not have believed him,” Perez says. “But Hashgachah pratis decided otherwise.”

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