01/06/2012 11:41 EST | Updated 03/07/2012 05:12 EST

NDP Nomination Battle Looms For Layton's Toronto Riding


A tough competition is underway in Jack Layton's riding of Toronto-Danforth, where NDP members will choose Monday night from among five candidates vying for their party's nomination.

The byelection to fill the vacancy left by Layton's death in August hasn't been called yet, but parties are getting prepared and getting their candidates ready.

The five people seeking the NDP's nomination are Justin Duncan, Claire Prashaw, Ashraf Ali Rao, Craig Scott and Hanif Sheikh.

Candidates will be busy this weekend making calls and reaching out to their fellow New Democrats to convince them that they are the best person to represent the party at the polls and, if successful, fill Layton's seat in Ottawa.

"Everyone’s campaigning hard and I am as well, right down to the wire," Craig Scott said in an interview.

The international law professor at Osgoode Hall Law School has collected a number of high-profile endorsements since he announced his candidacy last month. McGill University academic Charles Taylor, Amnesty International Canada's Alex Neve and James Orbinski, past president of Doctors Without Borders, have publicly supported him.

But Scott, 49, said he is well-connected on the ground too, having lived in the riding for more than 20 years, and said he has a lot of friends and volunteers helping his campaign. Scott said he is looking forward to constituency work, if he wins the nomination and the election, and to tackling issues on a national scale.

"I feel motivated by the really urgent and serious challenges that we face in the country," he said when asked why he is seeking the nomination. Scott said he feels a sense of duty that helped prompt his entry in the contest and that he is worried about the direction Prime Minister Stephen Harper's agenda is taking the country.

Prashaw too has her sights set firmly on the job of succeeding Layton, her former boss. The 32-year-old worked as Layton's constituency assistant for a year-and-a half before he died and says she was inspired by Layton, particularly his commitment and belief in young people.

"I'm passionate about the issues that are facing this community and our country and I want to help build a better future for the next generation, for my son. This is the work that I love to do and it's what I find most meaningful," she said.

Prashaw, who has worked abroad with social justice groups and as a teacher in Toronto, says the nomination contest is a tough competition, but she is confident she has an edge over her competitors.

"I think that I have the longest roots with the NDP and I have the most experience working at the grassroots level. I've built a lot of relationships with the community and I have a lot of respect from people," she said.

There's another lawyer in the running besides Scott: Justin Duncan, a lawyer with the non-profit environmental law group Ecojustice.

He lives in the riding and says he is dedicated to improving access to education and childcare, public transit, increasing public housing and ensuring immigration policy is fair.

"Jack Layton, our former Member of Parliament as well as leader of the NDP, created a strong legacy of justice and fairness, and I want to do what I can to bring hope and optimism to Parliament, standing up for the issues that matter most to the people in our community," he writes on his website.

Monday's nomination meeting is scheduled to begin around 7 p.m. at the Metropolitan Community Church, near Broadview Ave. and Gerrard St. Each candidate will have a chance to make a speech and then voting begins. The candidate who receives more than 50 per cent of votes will be declared the winner and if that doesn't happen on the first ballot, the candidate with the lowest number of votes will be dropped off and voting will proceed until there is a clear winner.

Layton's wife, Olivia Chow, is expected to attend the meeting and say a few words.

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