POLITICS

Chrystia Freeland To Represent Liberals In Toronto-Centre Byelection, McQuaig For NDP

09/15/2013 11:42 EDT | Updated 11/15/2013 05:12 EST
TORONTO - Two celebrated authors and former journalists will be going head-to-head in an upcoming Toronto byelection, a race that's expected to show whether the Liberals or New Democrats will likely emerge as the alternative to the Conservatives in the next national battle royale.

The Liberals picked Chrystia Freeland to fly their banner in the riding of Toronto Centre, while the New Democrats selected Linda McQuaig — both political rookies.

Freeland, who came under fire from McQuaig before her victory was even declared, wouldn't take the bait, saying only that she was looking forward to the race and the chance to defeat the governing Conservatives in the 2015 general election.

Canada's at a tipping point, she said. The economy is changing and only the "companies and the people who figure that out who grasped that this is a consequential moment, are going to make it."

"Canadians are ready for a change," Freeland said. "They've had some time with the Harper government and they're not too happy with where they've gotten."

The Tories were also in McQuaig's crosshairs.

Canada is moving into the "post-Harper era," said the left-leaning intellectual.

The Conservatives are on the ropes from the Senate scandals and the outcome of the byelection will shape the direction of the next national election in 2015, said McQuaig.

Income inequality will be at the forefront of her byelection campaign, she said. But Freeland — Trudeau's "hand-picked choice" — isn't offering any solutions to a problem that's a huge issue in the riding's low-income neighbourhoods.

"She's written about income inequality but she kind of sort of says, 'Well this is inevitable, this is part of the global economy, there's nothing we can do about it,'" McQuaig said

But it will be at the forefront of the NDP's campaign, she promised.

The riding — which has been Liberal for 20 years — can be pried away from the party by targeting voters who have been "very badly hurt" by the economic policies of both Tory and Liberal governments, she said.

"It's a question of reaching out, getting involved with those marginalized groups, listening to their concerns, bringing their concerns into our campaign and championing their causes," McQuaig said.

"And if we do that I very much think we can bring them on to the NDP side."

That's a tired old argument, said former cabinet minister Bill Graham, who held the riding from 1993 until 2007.

The New Democrats used it in every election campaign when he was the MP, and voters — both rich and poor — always proved them wrong, said Graham.

"I find people in this riding are like everybody: they've got their own needs, but they also have a strong vision about what we should be as a country and as a people," he said. "And that's why I think the Liberal party, in the last 20 years, has represented this riding."

As for the Liberals' ability to beat a high-profile NDP candidate, Graham said, "Do you think Jack Layton was a high-profile candidate?"

"I beat Jack Layton in this riding," he said.

McQuaig, who lives in the riding, was up against former journalist Jennifer Hollett and activist Susan Gapka but won on the first ballot. Freeland bested community organizer Todd Ross and former banker Diana Burke in the race, after moving back to Toronto from New York with her family to seek the nomination.

Freeland — whose impressive resume includes degrees at both Harvard and Oxford, editor-at-large of Thomson Reuters and award-winning author — told party members that she'll use her international experience to help craft a "compelling" vision for Canada.

"What we are getting from the Harper government is the reheated ideological leftovers of 1990s U.S. Republicanism," she said in her final pre-vote pitch.

"And what is so galling to me is that the Americans who wrote the recipe in the first place, have given up on it because it doesn't work."

Her supporters, who include Graham, Sen. David Smith and former cabinet minister Art Eggleton, say she's got the economic and business experience to help the Liberals win the next election.

"The Conservatives will run on their economic record," Graham told the crowd. "Justin wants and needs a team that can stand up and say that the Liberal party has always had a better economic record and a better understanding of the economics of this country."

Harper hasn't yet called the date of the byelection, which was triggered when former interim Liberal leader Bob Rae resigned.

— With files from Will Campbell.

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