POLITICS

Toronto-Danforth Nomination: NDP Select New Candidate In Jack Layton's Riding

01/09/2012 04:00 EST | Updated 03/09/2012 05:12 EST
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TORONTO - He may never fill Jack Layton's shoes, but NDP candidate Craig Scott is vowing to follow in the late leader's footsteps if he manages to hold on to his Toronto seat.

The law professor and political rookie was elected Monday night as the party's candidate in Toronto-Danforth, the riding left vacant by Layton's death last August. Scott will go on to represent the party in a yet-to-be-called byelection.

"I hope that the people of Toronto-Danforth — not just the NDP riding members — will remember Jack for the reasons that he should be remembered, and will want this riding not just to stay NDP, but to stay decisively NDP," Scott said following his win.

"And I believe that's what's going to happen."

Layton's widow, MP Olivia Chow, issued the call to arms earlier in the evening, challenging Prime Minister Stephen Harper to stop dragging his feet and "bring it on!"

"He seems to find time to pack the unelected Senate with failed Conservative cronies," Chow said, referring to last week's appointments. "We need him to take time for democracy, because that is what New Democrats are all about ... so call the byelection now."

Harper has until Feb. 22 to announce the date of the byelection. Scott said he believes the Conservatives are aiming to have the race coincide with the selection of a new party leader in March in an effort to minimize publicity for the Opposition.

Scott, who specializes in human rights law, beat out environmentalist and lawyer Justin Duncan and community activist Claire Prashaw, who worked with Layton in his constituency office.

Prashaw had elicited support from well-known figures such as ex-MP Tony Martin and Wayne Samuelson, former president of the Ontario Federation of Labour.

But Scott, who was wooed by the party brass, held the most high-profile endorsements, including Layton's political mentor, philosopher Charles Taylor, and former Ontario NDP president Janet Solberg.

A professor at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Scott's resume includes co-founding the Sri Lankan Campaign for Peace and Justice and taking part in the truth commission created by human rights organizations in Honduras following the 2009 coup.

He was also involved in providing advice and expertise in Maher Arar's lawsuit against the federal government and was involved in the development of South Africa's constitution, according to Osgoode's website.

He lives in the riding with his male partner, Aeh.

Scott is an "incredibly charismatic" professor who would speak out for human rights and the environment if elected to Parliament, said Layton's son Mike, a Toronto city councillor.

"I think his experience internationally and what he stood for internationally — really, all the work he's done — is really going to resonate for the people in Toronto-Danforth."

The riding, located east of downtown Toronto, represents a diverse section of the city, where the upwardly mobile live alongside co-operatives and social housing. The area also includes large Chinese, Greek and South Asian communities, whose support will be key for the NDP to hang on to the seat.

All three candidates embraced after Scott's victory — a final gesture of goodwill that marked an evening that was more of a party love-in than a bitter competition.

Layton's family were on hand along with leadership hopefuls Peggy Nash and Paul Dewar to watch the proceedings at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto. The church's pastor, Rev. Brent Hawkes, presided over Layton's state funeral.

It was clear from the start that Layton wasn't far from anyone's thoughts. Layton's old signs were exchanged for donations to the party. The event began with a stirring slideshow tribute to the NDP leader, which brought some of the party faithful to tears. Each candidate mentioned him in their speeches.

Seeing the love for his late father is like getting a "big hug," Mike Layton said.

"My family and I are just so overwhelmed with all the support that our city and country have given us since his passing," he said. "We'll never be able to forget that and we'll never be able to repay all the love that people are sending us."

Before Layton won the seat in 2004, it was held for 16 years by former Liberal MP Dennis Mills. Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae also held the seat from 1979 until 1982, when he was a New Democrat.

Layton died of cancer in August at age 61, just a few months after he led the NDP to a historic finish in last May's federal election.

New Democrats picked up a record 103 seats, vaulting into official Opposition status thanks largely to a surge of support in Quebec, which delivered 59 seats to the party.

The party had just 19 seats when Layton became leader in 2003.

His death set off a national wave of grief that was particularly pronounced in Toronto, where he honed his political skills as a municipal councillor.

Eight candidates are currently vying for the party crown, including former party president Brian Topp and Montreal MP Thomas Mulcair.

The election is slated for March 24 at a leadership convention in Toronto.

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