Back in 1992, Democratic strategist James Carville told presidential candidate Bill Clinton that the election was about “the economy, stupid.”
More than two decades later, it looks like Carville’s advice still rings true, at least in the upcoming Toronto Centre by-election. During separate candidate nomination meetings on Sunday afternoon, both the New Democrats and the Liberals chose to run journalists who have written extensively about the economy. The NDP went with Linda McQuaig, while the Liberals decided on Chrystia Freeland.
Toronto Centre’s federal seat was left empty when MP Bob Rae—a prominent Liberal who used to be the leader of the Ontario NDP—retired over the summer. Liberals have held the riding since 1993.
At the YMCA on Maitland Street, Toronto-Centre New Democrats chose McQuaig on the first ballot. McQuaig has written 11 books on the economy, and was also a journalist for The Globe and Mail and Maclean’s. She ran against television journalist Jennifer Hollett and activist Susan Gapka. Up the street at the Toronto Reference Library, where the Liberals held their meeting, Freeland was also chosen on the first ballot. She was running against Royal Bank executive and longtime party organizer Diana Burke and Métis community organizer and Canadian Forces veteran Todd Ross.
Both Freeland and McQuaig have written extensively about income inequality. McQuaig’s books have focused heavily on debunking the logic of austerity, while former Globe and Financial Times editor Freeland’s latest book is called Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.
During a speech, McQuaig talked about how much she had come to like Hollett and Gapka during the nomination process, and expressed the hope that all three of them would eventually be able to sit together in the first New Democratic federal government.
“Individually, we’re strong,” she said of her opponents in the nomination race. “Together, we’re invincible.”
She also wasted no time in starting her campaign. She said that Conservatives are already reeling, and that it’s time for the NDP to go in for the knockout punch.
“We know how urgent it is that we defeat the Harper government, given the…damage they’ve done to Canada’s reputation,” she said. “And now they’re covered in the stench of corruption, which makes them wonderfully vulnerable.”
She also called out Freeland and the Liberals.
“It’s nice that [the Liberals] have finally discovered the problem of income inequality,” she said. “But it’s interesting that they don’t seem to notice that it’s a problem they’ve directly contributed to through their policies over the years.”
Freeland’s victory speech went in a different direction. She didn’t mention the New Democrats or Tories once, opting instead to focus on the importance of coming together as Liberals.
“The Liberal Party, historically, hasn’t always been great at getting past these internal decisions and moving on to the really important business of winning elections,” she said. “Given the sort of race we’ve run and the quality of the people in this room, I know that…we’re going to wake up tomorrow as a totally united Liberal Party of Toronto Centre.”
The by-election has no set date at the moment, but could happen as soon as next month.