Decision time in Toronto-Centre: 'A showcase of what the next election’s going to look like'

NDP and Liberals to elect candidates for upcoming byelection

TORONTO – The New Democrats and Liberals will elect their candidates for the upcoming byelection in a downtown Toronto riding Sunday, setting the stage for an epic battle in the next general election.

The New Democrats have two high-profile women vying for the nomination: Linda McQuaig, an author and intellectual, and former broadcast journalist and digital expert Jennifer Hollett, who both live in the riding.

Susan Gapka, a singer and activist, is also on the ballot.

The Liberals, meanwhile, will choose between author and journalist Chrystia Freeland, bank executive Diana Burke and Todd Ross, a community organizer.

They’re competing for the seat left vacant by former Liberal leader Bob Rae, who stepped down this summer.

The race in Toronto Centre is more important than most, said Peter Loewen, a politics professor at the University of Toronto. If the Opposition NDP is going to win a majority, they would do well to win this type of riding.

But it will be difficult to dislodge the Liberals, who’ve held the riding for a long time, he added.

“It gives us some bellwether or some reading of the NDP strength versus the Liberal strength,” Loewen said.

McQuaig agrees. One of the reasons the race is attracting a lot of attention and well-known candidates is because it comes at such an “interesting, exciting moment in Canadian politics,” she said.

The governing Conservatives are in serious trouble in the wake of the Senate expense scandal and seem to be unable to recover, she said. It creates an “incredible dynamic” of which of the two opposition parties will likely emerge as the alternative to the Tories in the next general election.

“So it really does set up a kind of fascinating competition that could, in fact, create momentum for 2015,” said McQuaig. “Like whichever party wins … it would look like the pendulum was swinging towards that party.”

But the big-name candidates have also attracted a lot of attention. Loewen noted that the NDP won many seats in Quebec in the 2011 election even though many of their candidates were inexperienced unknowns.

So the byelection will provide a sense of how the party will campaign with a well-known candidate, he said.

“This is really a bit of a showcase of what the next election’s going to look like, where Justin Trudeau’s going to attract high level, quality candidates, like Chrystia Freeland, and Thomas Mulcair’s going to do the same,” Loewen said.

Hollett, who was inspired to run after Jack Layton’s death, said she’s not worried about competing against a star Liberal candidate if she wins the nomination.

“We must not forget that at the doors, voters don’t care if you’re a journalist, or you went to Harvard, or you wrote a book,” said Hollett, who graduated from the world-renown university.

“They don’t care. They want to know that you’re committed to representing them.”

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