Chrystia Freeland and Toronto Centre - Macleans.ca

Chrystia Freeland and Toronto Centre

Paul Wells considers the history of sideliners who made the jump

by

Chrystia Freeland interviews Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney at the National Press Club in Washington in April 2013. (Gary Cameron, Reuters)

There is much excitement in the roomy Venn intersection where journalists and Liberals meet over the news that Chrystia Freeland is seeking the federal Liberal nomination in Toronto Centre, where a by-election must soonishly be held to replace the retiring, though never shy, Bob Rae.

This is because Freeland is the press corps’s favourite kind of star candidate, one drawn from our own ranks. From its highest echelons, to be precise: Freeland, who is annoyingly younger than me, is a global superstar pundit whose track record includes stints at Thomson-Reuters, the Financial Times Moscow bureau, and for a time at the Globe and Mail, where she seconded Richard Addis as deputy editor for the first few years after the National Post launched in 1998. (Publisher Phil Crowley’s idea was that Canadians knew nothing about newspaper wars so he brought in Addis from the tabloids and Freeland from the quality press to teach Front Street how to fight.) Her latest book, about the Forgotten Middle Class, won accolades and made her Justin Trudeau’s favourite pundit because that’s a theme he seeks to promote.

Toronto Centre is also a riding of legend, because so many people who decide which ridings become legendary live there. It stretches from the financial district up to Rosedale and includes part of the University of Toronto and the city’s gay village. Previous MPs include Donald Stovel Macdonald, a Liberal whose September 1985 report gave Brian Mulroney much of his economic agenda; former mayor David Crombie; and Bill Graham. Trudeau has been under some pressure to find a candidate who’d have some economic credibility. Freeland will face competition for the nomination, but she provides the apparently needed credibility with a twist: FT, Reuters, global talking head, but also the furthest thing from a dusty banker.

Trudeau needs to recruit a new generation of candidates who can generate some buzz if he is to compete seriously in the 2015 election. (Most recent polls show the Liberal doing rather better than competing seriously, but it’s a long road to 2015, so I take those polls to be intriguing but hardly conclusive.) By all accounts Trudeau is already doing pretty well in candidate recruitment. The rumour mill is coughing up such names as CTV journalist Seamus O’Regan, who has conspicuously been spending quality time in his native Newfoundland. A few other ridings in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto seem likely to get interesting names in their nomination contests.

Meanwhile Freeland must compete for the nomination and the seats. She has all the usual weaknesses of rookie political candidates, plus one we have seen in only one recent case. The usual: it’s her first campaign, politics is a craft one learns by doing, and she hasn’t done much. History is full of sideliners who thought they knew how this works until they learned otherwise, from Jim Coutts to Rod Love to Randall Denley. The novel weakness is … well, are you surprised I made it this far without mentioning Michael Ignatieff? Freeland left Canada to pursue a post-secondary education and seems since then to have lived here only long enough to serve as Addis’s deputy from 1999 to 2002-ish. Liberals on Twitter yesterday were quick to pooh-pooh the comparison — surely travel is enriching! — and Freeland will be fine as long as there are no cases of her using “we” and “our” to refer to Americans.

Whoopsie.

In recent decades, however, as the president put it, “that bargain began to fray.” He pointed to the most important and most worrying evidence that it had broken down: “The link between higher productivity and people’s wages and salaries was severed — the income of the top 1 percent nearly quadrupled from 1979 to 2007, while the typical family’s barely budged”

 Obama pointed to some of the familiar political drivers of this shift — weaker unions and tax cuts at the top. But, to his credit, he also noted the structural factors — in particular, technological change and globalization — that have helped hollow out the middle class. These are the heart of the problem, because they are both largely positive and hard to change. We can’t stop them, and most of us don’t want to — but we surely do want to reverse their devastating consequences for the middle class. — Freeland, two days ago