06/26/2013 06:12 EDT | Updated 08/26/2013 05:12 EDT

Toronto Centre Byelection A Dry Run For Some Looking To 2015


Toronto Centre, the quintessential downtown riding in the heart of the city left open by MP Bob Rae's sudden resignation, has been owned by the Liberals for two decades, and is likely to stay that way after a byelection, according to pollsters and political strategists.

When the next federal election takes place in 2015, Toronto Centre will have new borders determined by a riding redistribution process. It will be part of a new trio of electoral districts, two of which might be more accessible to the NDP, and one to the Conservatives.

At present, Toronto Centre is one of the most finely sliced class-structured electoral districts in the country, or, as long-time NDP insider Gerald Caplan describes it, "A triple-decker riding with the fancy top, gay middle and the relatively poor south."

Its boundaries include the social housing development of Regent Park, the maze of apartment blocks largely populated by recent immigrants in St. Jamestown, the gay village around Church and Wellesley, the upscale Rosedale neighbourhood, and a bit of the University of Toronto and Bay Street.

Insiders in both the Conservative Party and the NDP readily concede that their chances of winning a byelection in the riding with the current borders is unlikely.

One strategist said the riding is usually one in which the Conservative candidate carries the banner for the party in a lost and hopeless cause. But the byelection might turn out to be what he called an "investment." If the candidate's a "keeper," he or she will stow away the lessons learned and the profile gained for the 2015 election, when Toronto Centre and neighbouring Trinity Spadina will be rejigged into three new ridings.

The wealthier bits of Toronto Centre, including Rosedale, will be incorporated into a new riding that might be the first downtown Toronto seat the Conservatives stand a chance of winning.

An NDP insider also agrees Toronto Centre "really is a Liberal seat to take." But, with the same logic, he points out, the byelection could be a prelude for an NDP candidate who will have much better odds in another of the new ridings, once Rosedale and Bay Street are lopped off. "That's an incentive for people who want to win, but think one loss might be worth it."

Smitherman won't say yet if he's running

George Smitherman, a former Liberal member of the provincial legislature and cabinet minister, and a mayoralty candidate who lost to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, won't say if he will seek the Liberal nomination in the upcoming byelection, for which no date has been announced.

"I always had my eye on representing the Toronto Centre community and downtown Toronto in the House of Commons," Smitherman said.

Some Liberal insiders say man, who was the the first openly gay MPP, has been making plans for years.

If he does decide to run in Toronto Centre, Smitherman told CBC News he'll announce soon.

Describing the riding, Smitherman said, "It's about the future of three ridings. So there are people who are observing Toronto Centre from adjacent ridings that normally wouldn't because we're all going to be in the mix together soon. So it's really fascinating."

Another Liberal who might seek the party's nomination leading up to a byelection is Sachin Aggarwal, a Toronto lawyer and businessman who was once deputy chief of staff to former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.

In an interview, Aggarwal said he has lots of support from prominent Liberals. "Canadians are looking for a new generation of leadership," he said. "There's a certain level of dissatisfaction in the way politics is conducted, and I think Canadians are looking for a change to that."

Byelection could be a year away

Aggarwal said he'll decide soon about running, but warns a byelection could be a year away.

"Unless [Prime Minister Stephen Harper] pairs it with some Conservative wins, my guess is he's not going to have another clear loss like he had in Newfoundland."

The Conservatives just lost a bylection in the riding of Labrador to the Liberals, after former cabinet minister Peter Penashue resigned due to election finance problems. He sought to be returned to the House of Commons, but lost the byelection.

Former CTV host Seamus O'Regan is also rumoured to be seeking the Liberal nomination.

No one has announced for the NDP, but insiders speak with enthusiasm about Jennifer Hollet, a Harvard grad and former CBC producer and MuchMusic host, who tweeted from the Girls20 Summit in Russia that she is considering running in Toronto Centre. She is also promoting a brunch NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is hosting in the riding June 30 before the annual Toronto Pride parade begins.

Another rumoured NDP candidate is Susan Gapka, the federal NDP LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans) co-chair.

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