Why Toronto Centre is must-watch political theatre - Macleans.ca

Why Toronto Centre is must-watch political theatre

Anne Kingston on the ones to watch in the race to replace Bob Rae


The nomination meetings for the by-election in Toronto Centre have paved way to the much-anticipated must-see policy-wonk event of the fall: Linda McQuaig facing off against Chrystia Freeland in an all-candidates debate. High-brow Dynasty! Davos with stilettos, and not the shoes! Sure, others will be on the stage too: John Deverell representing the Green Party, Travis McCrae the Pirate Party, and a yet-to be-named Conservative (they have one contender: lawyer Geoff Pollock). But McQuaig and Freeland, former journalists and political novices, are the ones to watch in the battle for Bob Rae’s former seat. Both are skilled public speakers known for their writing on social and economic inequity—a topic emerging as a signal issue of the 2015 federal election. Since their nominations,  there’s been much chatter about how either would be an outstanding representative for the riding, as if the fact they’re both smart, high-achieving women renders them fungible.  Anyone who sees them as peas in a pod will be in for a shock.

The riding has been in the spotlight since Freeland’s surprise announcement in July that she was leaving an big executive media job in New York to vie for the Liberal nod in high-profile Toronto Centre, held by the Liberals since 1993. Many saw it as political anointment. Freeland, author of the much-acclaimed 2012 book Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, appeared a ideal addition to a embattled party in need of new blood: accomplished, check; international reputation, check; born and raised in Alberta, check; woman, check; been on The Colbert Report, check. Justin Trudeau had been referring to both her and her book when discussing the vanishing middle class for months.  She arrived to a formidable team of Liberal veterans in place.

Then, a  week later, McQuaig announced her bid. If anyone can spar with Freeland about income-inequity, it’s McQuaig, the author of 11 books who has been writing on the subject for decades. In 2011, McQuaig, whose been called “Canada’s Michael Moore” co-authored The Trouble With Billionaires: How the Super-Rich Hijacked the World and How We Can Take It Back with law professor Neil Brooks.

Now Toronto Centre is viewed as some sort of chicken-entrail indicator of the 2015 federal campaign. If true, it bodes well for grassroots political engagement and intelligent debate. Female participation has also been encouragingly high. Two of three on the Liberal ballot were women; the NDP chose between three accomplished women.  The diverse riding reflects a political system in flux: two adjacent ridings, both former “Liberal strongholds,” went orange in 2011, the election that saw the NDP become the official opposition and Liberals fall to third party for the first time in history. The NDP candidate in Toronto Centre came within 10 percentage points of taking the riding: Rae’s support dropped 18 per cent, to 41 per cent of the vote. The fact the vanishing middle class is the animating topic in the yet-unscheduled by-election is also fraught with irony: the boundaries for the riding, one of the country’s most diverse ethnically and economically, will be redrawn before the 2015 election, with the affluent northern district forming the new riding of University-Rosedale.

McQuaig has home-turf advantage, having lived in the riding 12 years. She’s running on three primary issues: income security and resisting what she calls “the austerity agenda;” affordable housing; the  environment. Out of the gate, she blasted Conservatives and Liberals, speaking of the “post-Harper era”  at every opportunity. Long before the by-election, McQuaig had taken on Freeland in the American edition of The Trouble with Billionaires. She accused her of being “embedded” with the wealthy people she reported about. In her acceptance speech yesterday, she continued the attack, saying Freeland “presents herself as a progressive, but her writings reveal that she regards as income inequality as inevitable.” A long-time political operative who has known McQuaig for years expresses both respect and some fear: “I would not want to run into Linda in a dark alley.”

Freeland’s campaign has been more folksy and conciliatory. She repeatedly references her immigrant roots and growing up in Northern Alberta. She has not discussed specific policy or McQuaig, saying her energy was focused on winning the nomination. Her themes are sweeping: the benefits of capitalism, the need for early education, encouraging entrepreneurship—all destined to resonate with the Rosedale-Rotman business school crowd.

Such politesse should not be underestimated. Early on, predictable comparisons were made between Freeland and Michael Ignatieff. And though commonalities exist, so do big differences—the primary one being that Freeland is far better connected, particularly in the economic matrix. She’s a habitué  of  the Davos think-tank circuit and sat on the dean’s advisory council of the Rotman School of Business. One need only look at the back cover of Plutocrats, which features glowing blurbs from many of the people mentioned within, including former prime minister Paul Martin, described in the book as “a self-made millionaire.”  Larry Summers, former U.S. Treasury secretary who just yesterday dropped out of consideration for the position of Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, also gave it a shout-out.

But that was then. Now when asked why she’s running for office, Freeland borrows from Malcolm Gladwell, speaking of Canada being at a “tipping point.”  That can mean anything, of course. Which makes Toronto-Centre must-watch political theatre.


Why Toronto Centre is must-watch political theatre

  1. I don’t like either of them. Good thing I don’t live there.

    • I don’t either but I feel so appalled by parachute candidates like Freeland (out of country and just coming back to run) it’s disrespectful to riding so I hope NDP takes it.

      • ??? It’s just politics, not church Claudia.

  2. Just in case you haven’t noticed Emy, but we never asked you for your opinion on the subject.

    • Just in case you haven’t noticed, comments are permitted, and even encouraged here (that is why they have that little comment section at the end). In other words, opinions are invited. Even your gratuitous drive by smears.

      Hope that helps you understand.

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          • I think someone needs a nap.

          • You go right ahead KC. Don’t worry you won’t be missed.

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          • Didn’t get your nap yet eh?

          • Heaven forbid someone comment on personalities on an article about personalities. You’ll notice that the article had absolutely nothing to do with policy. Or are we only allowed to write glowing praise about these people who aren’t proposing any policy, and are simply running on their personalities?

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    • Have another coffee.

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  3. I still question Mulcair’s claim the NDP are going to do things differently than the other parties, when he, and his candidates, seem to be following the CPC formula of being hyper partisan and engaging in personal attacks.

    That said, those comparisons between Freeland and Ignatieff should probably worry the liberals a little.

    • They’re ALL hyper partisan and they ALL engage in personal attacks.

      • So you agree Mulcair is not doing things differently, despite his promise otherwise.

        • To be fair Trudeau has made the same promise. So far i’d say he’s done a better job of it then Tom.

          • Yes he has.

    • I think that comparison would be more worrying if she was leading the party.

      • True, but it is amazing how that comparison seems to have endured.

  4. It’s in the news because they are journalists and the media is always in love with their own. It’s that big ego thing. They will try to elevate them to sainthood!

  5. “Freeland, author of the much-acclaimed 2012 book Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-rich and the Fall of Everyone Else ….. ”

    PJ O’Rourke – Collectivism doesn’t work because it’s based on a faulty economic premise. There is no such thing as a person’s ‘fair share’ of wealth. The gross national product is not a pizza that must be carefully divided because if I get too many slices, you have to eat the box. The economy is expandable and, in any practical sense, limitless

    • BS. Even a glance around the world will tell you that societies that have a narrower range of income disparity tend to do well by almost any metric when matched against those with large disparities.

      The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises
      in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral
      justification for selfishness.

      John Kenneth Galbraith

      • Whereas Liberals and Dippers are simply engaged in a search for moral justification of taking other people’s wealth. While, amazingly, you people refuse to give your own wealth to those in need. There’s a reason why conservative’s give twice as much to charities as bleeding heart socialists. Conservative’s believe in giving to those less fortunate, socialists believe in taking from those who’ve succeeded and doing wtf they want with it.

  6. And we all know Paul Martin (big time Liberal) was “not” a self-made millionaire, but came from a rich family and inherited wealth. Canada Steamship Lines was in the family, in which during the recession in the 90s flew under “flags of convenience”, where safety and labour laws were lax. And where they didn’t have to pay workers Can pension and benefits. It appears Freeland is not such a good researcher and not progressive.

    • Exactly. She’s a another limousine Liberal. A socialite who can match her political masters own pedigree. A great addition, regardless of whether she wins, to Justin’s run up to 2015.

      • The worst part of Freeland running is the quantity of cliches it is generating from the Cons.

    • Who did he inherit the wealth from?

      • Yeah you’re right. He was nothing but the young squirt son of a long time poorly paid Liberal politician.

        So I wonder where the money came from ??????????

        Old leftoid bag man Maurice Strong was in it too. Maurice was a Bob Rae lackey or vice versa.

    • Jan, his father was an MP for more than three decades, and Paul was EA to the CEO when he was appointed to the CSL Board of Directors back in the Seventies — where did all this inherited money you speak of come from? And really, even if he was a wealthy person who decided to serve the public — just what is wrong with that?

      • Ya, Paul Martin really earned that appointment to board by fetching coffee for the CEO. That takes a lot of smarts. I’m sure Canadians all over the place are telling their kids to become secretaries so that they can become CEO one day.

        No, there’s nothing wrong with wealthy people deciding to serve the public. But it’s a little disgusting when a millionaire trust fund baby decides to run for public office claiming to be just an average middle class working man, when in fact he’s never worked a real job in his life, has never had to worry about making ends meet, and is deluded enough to believe that being a substitute drama teacher qualifies one’s self to run a country of over 30 million people.

        • “Never worked a real job in his life”

          Are you talking about Stephen Harper again? You know, the guy who doesn’t drink alcohol?

          • Ya, when I say “never worked a real job”, I’m obviously talking about the guy who’s been Prime Minister for 7 years. Obviously someone like that doesn’t have the experience to be Prime Minister :P

            Ya, Harper doesn’t drink alcohol. You have a problem with a sober Prime Minister? You’d rather we have a PM blazing a fattie when making decisions about, say, Syria?

            You lefties really have a strange bunch of requirements for who you’d vote for. Are substance abuse issues really something that’s required to be PM?

          • There are photos of Harper drinking. The issue is lying.

          • Stephen Harper does NOT drink alcohol, he does however accept a glass of wine or a beer and gives it a sip or two. ANYONE that knows him knows that. Pity observance.

          • So he DOES drink alcohol…..you’re just trying the ‘doesn’t inhale’ excuse.

          • Never ceases to amaze me your stupidity.

          • Oh darling, pure non sense as per usual but thanks for playing! : )

          • Con women are especially silly…..remind me of southern belles, they go all fluttery when they’re caught lying….so….bless your heart Claudia

          • STOP THE PRESSES, CALL AA!!!

            Prime Minister Stephen Harper held a glass of wine or a beer to make a toast on a public event and had a sip out of sense of respect to his hosts.

            Oh yeah, he is a drinker alright! Wonder how he runs the country?!

          • Nobody is saying he is an alcoholic – why are you so freaked out?

          • What is wrong with you?

            Yes, he drinks. We’ve known that for years. It’s legal you know. No one has complained about it.

            It’s the lying about it that’s the problem.

          • Maybe it’s the air at 24 Sussex Drive.

            Heck, for years goofy old Liberal PM MacKenzie KIng ran the whole country by taking instruction from his dead mother on a Ouija Board.

            And I’ll tell you, he worked overtime to keep that quiet.

          • We have more respect for the Con women though, and it’s well deserved..
            I don’t believe I’ve heard tell of a single one who ever went to a Rolling Stones Party and neglected to come home afterwards.

          • LOL you don’t know anyone who went to a Stones party, period.

          • And your point is???????

          • Is there something wrong with enjoying a few glasses of wine? What are we the Temperance Union?

          • What “real jobs” did Harper have before entering politics?

            And its well documented that he does drink alcohol, why does he feel it necessary to lie about that?

          • I guess he’s running for saint now. I wonder if he washes his own shirts – Romney claimed to.

        • You think Martin was a secretary? That is hilarious.

      • Oh yeah that’s right, Canada Steamship was a Demarais owned outfit, something to do with Power Corporation.

        Liberal bagman Maurice Strong was CEO, and little Paul Martin Junior, son of a long time Liberal MP, who didn’t have two cents to rub together, showed up one day and bought the thing.

        It’s amazing, and even more amazing, Demarais, the original guy, is related to Jean Chretien, n’est ce pas?

        Thanks patchouli, that’s interesting stuff. No wonder those Liberals call themselves “The Natural Governing Party.” They have a lock on the place going back decades.

  7. Seeing as I live in Toronto Centre, I’m interested to see how this plays out. Think I’ll check out Freelands Colbert appearance, God help her if she was flat!

  8. Journalists putting fellow journalists up on a pedestal is all this is. McQuiag is an intellectual light-weight who simply knows what words to say to get the far-left excited. Capable of actually running anything? Absolutely not. Canada’s Michael Moore? Sure, that’s a good analogy, completely useless except for providing entertainment for ideological siblings.

    Freeland might at least have some intelligence, though she only came about it by rubbing elbows with actual thinkers. She’s popular with the Ivory Tower crowd simply because she made it in the USA, just like Ignatieff. Personally I find it disgusting how the Liberals seem to think their saviours are going to be people who ran away from Canada as quick as they could.

    Either way, it doesn’t matter. This will be a lame media shoot-out, with journalists talking about journalists and talking them up as if they’re the second coming of Christ. Media folks will care, and I’m sure the elitists in Toronto-Center will see their riding as being incredibly important. But for the rest of Canada, nobody will care.

    • Speaking of intellectual lightweights…jerk out that knee Ricky.

      • Are you referring to yourself? At least I can finish a point without trailing off…..

        • But it’s always the same old point Ricky…

    • McQuaig–have you ever actually read any of her books? She talks a lot of sense and does her research. McQuaig is someone I’ve respected for quite a few years.

      • The only research she does is to confirm her pre-existing biases.

        • I get the impression you’re not one to talk.

        • So – like the Fraser Institute?

    • Harper putting Duffy and Wallin on a pedestal was perfectly timed I suppose. It did kind of bite him in the bum, though.

  9. Freeland is praised by Paul Martin, and Larry Summers. Wonderful! Larry Summers, who should take a large amount of the responsibility for the world current economic woes, who managed to accomplish absolutely nothing as Treasury secretary, other than continuing the US on it’s path of unsustainable debt.

    And Paul Martin, who Canadian voters rejected en mass. Who’s fortune comes from having his company evade Canadian taxes, even while he was Prime Minister.

    These are not the type of people Canadian voters want our representative’s associating with. Yet Liberals delude themselves into thinking that name-dropping like this will be their path to power. Canadian voters aren’t impressed with it. The Liberals think celebrity will bring them back to power. It won’t.

    • In other words Cons can’t get a star candidate of their own?

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        • You’ve left the conservative party !??

          ‘millionaire elitists who’ve never worked real jobs in their lives. A whole bunch of trust fund babies’

          That’s left-wing, hate the rich talk, Rick. Success is bad, and only the working class counts?

          Next you’ll be talking revolution!

          • Did I say I hate millionaire elitists? No, I didn’t. I have nothing against them, I just don’t want them representing my interests. Especially people like Justin Trudeau, who’s not “successful”, he simply inherited money from his family.

            And, ironically, that money came from the oil and gas business which Trudeau now rails against because it’s politically popular among his voters.

            Canada doesn’t need a pothead populist running the country, it needs a real leader. It HAS a real leader. I don’t want to be a part of some stoner trust fund babies social experiment.

          • Why not? Successful people are what Cons are supposed to be about.

            You mean, if they make it they eliminate themselves from the running? Give up any leadership role?

            Trudeau’s gfather ran gas stations, his son was a lawyer…..and you want to punish Justin for that? Kinda kills incentive doncha think?

            So far Harper has accomplished nothing….lotta talk, no accomplishments.

          • I think Harper axing Katimavik is what drew Trudeau into the race – remember how it was written on his arm when he fought former Conservative Brazeau?
            Harper’s vindictive nature is no myth and he likes to rub noses in the dirt. Is it a strength? A flaw?
            Wouldn’t it be ironic if the Katimavik dig ultimately led to the loss of his majority? That might be considered a high price for a nose rub, don’t you think?

          • “Pothead populist”…hmm. Rick, I was going to suggest that if you have any pull in the CPC, you could suggest Doug Ford put his hat it or even better, the Toronto mayor…he is on another roll of popularity boasted by none other than Justin Trudeau’s admission of smoking pot 5 times and then claiming he didn’t like it. Well, Rob said he smoked it “a lot” so he was the winner in the “pot popularity contest”. I think he could take the riding. Would he have to resign as mayor to run or could he take a leave of absence?

      • I suggested Rob or Doug Ford leave municipal politics and enter “the big show”. Wouldn’t that be a sight to see. Three “star” candidates. Hahaha!

        • You’d consider the Fords, stars?

          • They have higher name recognition than the other two candidates combined. It doesn’t matter if your “infamous” or “famous” when you are on the ballot. Do you think Ken Dryden was elected because of his political reputation or the fact that he was a star goalie for the Montreal Canadiens?

          • To you, perhaps.

            ‘Name recognition’ is gold in politics.

    • Enough about the opposition – tell us about the Con candidate – lawyer and family man – can’t remember his name. The party doesn’t seem to be putting much energy in promoting him. For his sake, shouldn’t they be giving it the old college try.

  10. Well now. Let’s all abide by the unwritten rules of engagement. No fence sitters allowed. Either your for the right or the left. We don’t do boring political disputes here on Maclean’s forum. It’s all or nothing.
    “Damn the torpedoes, it’s full steam ahead.”

    • Hmmm. I am a proud Liberal, but if I were in that riding I’d be voting for John Deverell. Not exactly fence sitting since I am making a choice, but going neither to the right or the left. Am I kicked out of the Macleans’ forums now? :)

  11. The LPC need to STOP attracting star candidates because that is not going to get them a win. They need to START creating policies that attract the middle class. Neither of these two journalists will succeed at that for the simple reason that their whole careers have been trashing the aspirations of the middle class (and the working class) – both groups want to be in the higher income groups. AND they fail to realize that the majority of middle class people really don’t hate those with lots of money – they want to be wealthy themselves and feel that governments are stopping them by imposing more rules, regulations and taxes to support programs that the middle class have little interest in. For example, the focus on homelessness is a general concern for the middle class but only as something they will voluntarily donate money to, but they all know relatives and friends who ended up temporarily homeless because of addictions (or its their own damn fault!). But to see millions and millions of their tax dollars go to something that will likely never be solved and will not help the middle class is annoying.

    • Many of the middle class do feel that way. Largely because there is so much media devoted to telling them that is how things are. Unfortunately, it is mainly untrue, so it would be good if those people learned different.

      An active public sector is generally associated with prosperity, and the amount of homelessness fluctuates wildly across different countries and even within the last few decades of Canadian history. When I was a teenager we didn’t have beggars on the streets all over the place like it was flippin’ Mumbai or something, because there were government programs for cheaper housing and social safety nets and mental hospitals. Public policy has consequences and poverty is not some eternal unalterable lump.

      • Sorry but an active public sector is generally associated with programs that have little purpose and few results. Homelessness in Canada (and I have studied and evaluated many government programs aimed at homelessness) is portrayed as a huge problem but it is not. The group of people who are truly homeless are those with addiction and mental health problems – unfortunately few, if any, of the government programs deal with those individuals.

        People are homeless for two reasons. 1 – they don’t have experience with renting and don’t understand the social norms about how not to piss off the landlord or other tenants – pay your rent on time, don’t move your drug dealing boyfriend into your apartment that in turn brings the police around; and don’t trash the apartment – that will get you evicted and in most communities landlords talk to each other. So those types of individuals get dumped into public housing which creates more problems. 2. The second group of people are educated young people from middle class homes that took stupid post secondary education programs that have left them with huge student debt and minimum wage jobs and parents that whine about how expensive housing is. And of course how their little darlings just can’t possibly live in a basement studio suite in someone’s house or share a house with five other guys – something that, 35 years ago was the norm. So instead we get the whine that government MUST do something to help these people. NO government must do something to help those who are really homeless, not those that had options and blew it.

      • purplelibraryguy….those beggars in the streets were all in psychiatric institutions when you were a kid. They lived out their whole lives there. Then there was a change in attitude, a decision to de-institutionalize all of the chronically mentally ill. They could not be kept in a psychiatric facility unless they posed an “imminent danger to themselves or others.” Believe it or not, a desire to live on the streets does not qualify as an imminent danger. In recent years we have had provinces in our country change the rules for forcing treatment and the committing of psychiatric patients…in a word we have lowered the bar on what is required to lock up a person with a mental illness and require them to accept treatment after discharge. Now, we only have to prove that they are suffering from a mental illness and that there life will be negative impacted by their refusal to receive treatment. Even with that change, we don’t have the institutional beds that were available in your youth. We likely never will. Now we try to keep people well in the community with community treatment orders and long-acting anti-psychotic medications that are injected every 2 to 4 weeks. However, when a patient doesn’t show up for their injection, it is still difficult to get them picked up police.
        All in all, our system isn’t so bad. We have mental health workers that go out onto the streets and checkup on these people and give them food, clothing and medication (if they will take it). Visit places like downtown Phoenix, Arizona or San Francisco, California and check out their mentally ill, homeless population. That is an eye-opening experience!

  12. Post-Harper era? Dream on sweet princess . . .

  13. Just as long as the conservatives don’t getbin

  14. If Chrystia Freeland, the darling of Toronto Centre’s Liberal elite chattering classes, falls to the lowly NDP, whom they literally despise, then I think whatever chance that Justin Trudeau had of mounting a credible run at the PM’s job will slowly and steadily start to disappear. That will be mainly because Thomas Mulcair will constantly rise in the House of Commons to remind him of it. If the NDP does win this riding byelection, we’ll never hear the end of it. The party will be singing his praises from the rooftops.