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Publication: Globe and Mail, The
Issue: 22 February 2008, page R4
Title: MILTON KLEIN 97: LAWYER AND POLITICIAN (Obituary)
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MILTON KLEIN 97: LAWYER AND POLITICIAN
MP from Montreal found himself on the wrong side of Trudeaumania
A promising backbencher and minister without portfolio under Lester Pearson, he had to step aside for a newcomer named Pierre Trudeau. He held on to his own seat, but not for long
Special to The Globe and Mail
February 22, 2008
MONTREAL -- Milton Klein was a promising and dutiful Liberal MP of the Pearson era whose political hopes were obliterated by the 1965 arrival of a blazing young star by the name of Pierre Trudeau.For a minister without portfolio, Mr. Klein's five years on the Hill had been impressive: drafting the first ever hate-crimes bill, making representations on progressive issues of the day (such as rehabilitating drug addicts and easing restrictions on foreign-trained doctors) and improving bilingualism. He may even have been the person who changed prime minister Lester Pearson's mind on the final design of the Maple Leaf flag.
However, by the time Mr. Trudeau's very appearance began to make young women scream, Mr. Klein realized he had to bow out of federal politics, heavy heart notwithstanding.
Beginning in 1963, Mr. Klein represented the people of Cartier, a Montreal area that since 1917 had been known as the Jewish riding. Until the 1960s, it counted a sizable Jewish population, but thousands of residents had gradually begun moving elsewhere in the city and the Jewish riding title was conferred on Mount Royal.
Mr. Klein had also been looking to move out of the old Jewish neighbourhood. In 1965, just after the Liberal minority government fell, he announced his intention to jump to Mount Royal for the upcoming election. But then there was Mr. Trudeau, who not only needed to find a seat but also seemed to carry some baggage. He was infamous in francophone ridings for his criticism of the overarching power of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Liberals felt it necessary to find him a safe anglophone riding. Mr. Trudeau got Mount Royal and Mr. Klein did what the Liberals wanted: He stayed put.
He put on a brave face and found a way to justify his return to Cartier. "I had considered the change because so many people who had voted for me in Cartier in the last election had moved to Mount Royal and were asking me to represent them there," he told the Montreal Gazette. Instead, he touted Cartier's ethnic diversity. "I must continue working for this riding so that all the ethnic groups in it may continue to thrive in the harmony they enjoy now."
The arrangement proved good for Mr. Trudeau and bad for Mr. Klein.
After Mr. Klein won his seat in 1965, the electoral map was redrawn and Cartier was amalgamated with neighbouring Laurier. Suddenly, Mr. Klein found himself without a seat for the 1968 election. At that year's Liberal convention, he put his support behind leadership hopeful Robert Winters, rather than Mr. Trudeau. It was his only public sign of protest over the riding incident.
Milton Lowen Klein was one of four children of Hungarian immigrants growing up in Montreal. At eight years old, his mother (whom he adored) took him to a political rally. She was so taken by the politician speaking to the crowd that he decided to go into politics. It would make her proud, he decided. But when he was 21, she died.
Two years later, in 1933, he earned a law degree from the University of Montreal. On New Year's Eve, 1935, he and his fiancée, Dorothy Ruby, eloped. It was a relationship they began as neighbourhood friends when they were 12. The couple later had two daughters, Johanne and Elise, and family time was filled with such activities as skating on a backyard rink and trips to New York to see Broadway plays. Every Saturday night, Mr. Klein and his wife went dancing. Mr. Klein established his law practice and also became involved with Jewish organizations, eventually becoming a member of the executive council of the Canadian Jewish Congress and a co-chairman of the Israel Bond Organization.
In 1963, the Liberal candidate for Cartier died just three weeks before a federal election and Mr. Klein won the nomination. He then had just 10 days to campaign.
Florence Yaffe was his self-described "gimmick girl." She remembers having to make sure his name was seen in as many places as possible. On the narrow streets of the Plateau and on busy St. Laurent Boulevard, the name Milton Klein could be found on free balloons, shopping bags, sewing kits and nail files. His name was also printed on the inner cardboard of faux breast-pocket handkerchiefs so that when men "carried it around, they knew who to vote for."
It was an exciting election. Mr. Pearson beat out John Diefenbaker while Mr. Klein fulfilled an unspoken promise to his mother.
Mr. Klein made a big impression in Parliament. In 1964, he introduced Canada's first hate-crimes bill. Bill C-21 was a brash private member's bill, proposing the death penalty for anyone who committed murder with genocide in mind. It also called for a ban on the distribution of hate literature. The bill died on the order paper when Mr. Pearson's minority government fell the following year. But it likely paved the way for the Cohen Committee of 1965 and led to a subsequent amendment to the Criminal Code in 1970, which states that "everyone who advocates or promotes genocide is guilty of an offence punishable by five years' imprisonment."
Former Liberal MP Herb Gray, who was a sitting member at the time, said Mr. Klein deserves recognition for what he says was a pioneering role in the area of hate-crimes legislation. "I am sure it helped create the atmosphere we all benefit from today," he said.
It was also in 1964 that Mr. Klein got caught up, like everyone else in Parliament, in the debate over the new flag. Mr. Pearson had unveiled a banner with three maple leaves. Mr. Klein called instead for one leaf, making the point that three leaves, which were supposed to represent Canadians of British stock, French Canadians and new immigrants, would only highlight their differences.
In the end, the flag issue was resolved only after 210 days of debate. When it was over, a group of Quebec politicians aligned with Mr. Klein unfurled the new flag they had sneaked in with them and began singing the national anthem.
While he was re-elected in 1965, knowing that he was not going to continue in politics seemed to change his outlook. Ms. Yaffe, the gimmick girl from 1963 who ended up working for him from 1967 to 1968, remembers a much different man than the one she saw at the beginning of his political career. She said he lost his fire and may have been too much of a gentleman for politics. He also never mixed politics and his private life.
Mr. Klein re-established his law practice, developed a lively interest in immigration issues and was a frequent caller to a CJAD radio show hosted by his friend Tommy Schnurmacher. Using the pseudonym John, he offered political opinions. His good health lasted until he was 96, when he took a bad fall.
He remained keenly aware of politics until days before his death, breaking the news of Benazir Bhutto's assassination to one of his daughters.
Milton Klein was born Feb. 21, 1910, in Montreal. He died of kidney failure there on Dec. 31, 2007. He was 97. He is survived by his daughters, Johanne Sternthal and Elise Lewin. He was predeceased by his wife, Dorothy, and by his brothers and sister.