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politics

Judgment Day in Toronto Centre

The federal by-election in Toronto Centre pits two high profile candidates against one another in a race that could set the tone for the next general election.

Photo by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.

Tomorrow’s federal by-election in Toronto Centre could be a nailbiter. The riding has been Liberal red for two decades, and polls have them leading the second-place NDP by a comfortable margin.

However, the Grits are still recovering from their collapse in the 2011 general election, when the NDP blew several large orange holes in the the former Liberal Fortress Toronto on the way to becoming the official opposition for the first time ever. The Orange Brigades would like to surf that 2011 momentum into another Toronto riding, while the Liberals hope for a convincing victory to fire up the troops and prove that leader Justin Trudeau is more than good hair and distinguished DNA.

We spoke with the two principal contenders in the race, NDP candidate Linda McQuaig and Liberal Chrystia Freeland.

Both McQuaig and Freeland are well-known journalists and authors. Both have published books with income inequality as a prominent theme (Freeland wrote The Plutocrats while McQuaig co-authored The Trouble With Billionaires with Neil Brooks), a highly visible problem in a riding that extends from the Range Rovers and renos of Rosedale to the low income, high-density towers of St. James Town and points south. Both candidates are women, which shouldn’t matter but does in a Parliament that’s still only 25 per cent female.

McQuaig, not surprisingly, leans further left. In person, she’s articulate and convincing, earnest but not NDP strident. She says that the move from journalism to NDP candidate was a natural one for her. “I’ve been a journalist and an author all my life, focused on fighting inequality and protecting social programs. In my writing I’ve always been an advocacy type of journalist.”

Photo by Joseph Morris from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

Linda McQuaig. Photo by Joseph.Morris from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Her take on income inequality is straightforward. McQuaig says that the growing divide between the yacht-and-helicopter crowd and everyone else is not an unavoidable outcome of globalization and other economic factors, but a predictable—and reversible—result of economic policies that have been implemented in many Western countries since the 1980s. “It’s called Thatcherism: tax cuts for the rich, social spending cuts, privatization, deregulation, a tax on labour. You put those policies in place and presto, you get income inequality.”

Liberal candidate Freeland is equally lucid and polished, but favours the language of the economist over that of the socialist. She also identifies income inequality as an important issue, both in this campaign and for the global economy. However, while acknowledging that factors such as deregulation and the weakening of unions have played a role in furthering economic disparity, she disputes the notion that the problem can be remedied simply by reversing specific right-wing economic policies. “It is intuitively obvious…that what is going on is new and different. There are some really big underlying economic shifts. The technology revolution has had huge impact on a number of sectors and on the breakdown of rewards in those sectors and the number of people that are employed in those sectors. Likewise globalization. So…it’s really important to be honest and thoughtful about how the world has changed. When the problems change we need new policies.”

She suggests that part of the solution should be a concerted focus on entrepreneurship, to train people to “invent their own jobs” in the the fluid modern workforce. She also advocates an emphasis on increasing social opportunity and social mobility, via the strengthening of programs in both early childhood and post-secondary education.


See also:

In her own words: Chrystia Freeland

In her own words: Linda McQuaig


Both candidates agree that the affordable housing shortage is a key issue in Toronto and favour some kind of housing policy at the federal level.

McQuaig identifies the lack of well-paid, full-time jobs as a critical problem, especially for youth. She advocates a two-pronged strategy for job creation: first, raising basic corporate tax rates and creating tax credits that are specifically tied to job creation. The second step would entail increased public spending on infrastructure projects, specifically in areas such as housing and transit. “We have a 170-billion-dollar infrastructure deficit,” says McQuaig. “If we want to have a strong future and an economically vibrant future we need to make those investments.”

Freeland agrees that infrastructure and jobs are important and related issues. “This is a city bursting at its seams in terms of transit and housing, and infrastructure is a tremendously effective supplier of jobs. We are living in a really low-interest-rate environment and it looks as if those low-interest rates may prevail for some time. If you’re living in an environment where you need more jobs, where your infrastructure is falling apart before your eyes, and interest rates are really low, it’s a no-brainer to say let’s do some big infrastructure projects.”

Chrystia Freeland  Photo by Joseph Morris from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

Chrystia Freeland. Photo by Joseph.Morris from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

The New Democrats’ McQuaig cites the need for action on climate change, which she believes is a growing concern for the average Canadian, as extreme weather becomes more frequent and its effects more destructive. She is highly critical of the Harper government’s record on climate change (Canada recently came in last of 27 countries in a ranking on environmental protection, largely because of our withdrawal from the Kyoto Treaty and general enthusiasm for greenhouse gas emissions) saying, “They have a big oil agenda—they are into supporting big oil and that’s it.”

The Liberal Party hasn’t given climate change a high profile in this race, possibly because leader Trudeau has publicly supported both oil sands development and the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Chrystia Freeland acknowledges the importance of the issue, albeit with some politician’s caution. “Climate change is a concern for all humans on planet Earth. I don’t want to make a scientific assertion which I haven’t been personally been able to prove but we certainly seem to be seeing more and more really big and tragic weather events and it’s hard not to connect those with climate change. I haven’t heard people proactively raising it at the door but of course it’s a huge issue. How could it not be?”

When we spoke with her, McQuaig also raises, unbidden, a familiar NDP talking point, suggesting that as someone with “deep roots in the community” she is better equipped to serve the citizens of Toronto Centre than Freeland, who only recently returned to Canada to run in the election after years of working in the U.S. and elsewhere. This has been a running theme through the NDP campaign—a skepticism about Freeland rooted in her recent return to the city.

The criticism has aroused Liberal ire, prompting Liberal curmudgeon Bob Rae (whose resignation prompted the election) to issue a hyperbolic tweet about “character assassination.” Nevertheless the attack is a sound strategy, given that a similar scenario probably contributed to the defeat of former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff in the 2011 election. Freeland, who’s had plenty of time to craft a response over the course of the campaign, observes that some half of Torontonians were born outside the country, and the fact of having lived elsewhere shouldn’t be viewed as a disadvantage. She also contends that her familiarity with international issues and ability to “get a seat at the table in some of the important international conversations” would be a benefit to the people of the riding.

While the Liberals are still the favorites in this race, an NDP surprise is far from impossible. And with many viewing the outcome in Toronto Centre as a bellwether for the general election in 2015, this is one to watch closely.

Comments

  • tromboneguy

    “Liberal candidate Freeland is equally lucid and polished, but favours the language of the economist over that of the socialist. She also identifies income inequality as an important issue, both in this campaign and for the global economy. However, while acknowledging that factors such as deregulation and the weakening of unions have played a role in furthering economic disparity, she disputes the notion that the problem can be remedied simply by reversing specific right-wing economic policies. “It is intuitively obvious…that what is going on is new and different. There are some really big underlying economic shifts. The technology revolution has had huge impact on a number of sectors and on the breakdown of rewards in those sectors and the number of people that are employed in those sectors. Likewise globalization. So … it’s really important to be honest and thoughtful about how the world has changed. When the problems change we need new policies.”
    Seriously, who does she think she’s kidding. She has no answers. Just entrepreneurship and the confidence fairy.

    • Sanyok

      I don’t see her offering any solutions either. Apparently, she convinced herself that by just talking about middle class will make her the champion of the middle class. Free Trade is the reason why we are where we are and low corporate taxes and lowered consumption taxes are the main reason why the feds (and the rest of us) are drowning in debt. Solutions are simple, but she’s more interested in obfuscating the issue than doing anything about it. Kind of reminds of Donald Rumsfield’s “this war is so complex” (throwing arms in the air).

      • tromboneguy

        The Libs have no answers. Its basically them saying you have to vote for us; “we’re not Harper” and we have Justin, and no one else does. Brother!

        • OgtheDim

          Wheras Mulcair is the voice of hope?

          Methinks you need to get outside your own echo chamber.

          • tromboneguy

            Oh, have you left yours? Get over yourself.

          • OgtheDim

            LOL….oh you don’t really know me very well, do you.

            I’m the guy who is on here always yelling at people to get out to the far corner of the city and listen to people.

            The guy who spent about 20 posts yelling at people on here for calling the city north of Bloor “the wastelands”.

            Yeah, I get rather tedious doing this, and I am far from thinking myself to be some sort of paragon of virtue on all this; but I am at least trying to hear people out who disagree with me.
            Thus the echo chamber comment.

          • tromboneguy

            Well, according to McQuaig, my comments reflect what she heard over and over. She didn’t win, true, but because right wing Tories voted Liberal to stop the NDP. Bob Rae isn’t part of the NDP, but the irony is that his reputation in Ontario led voters to vote Liberal to stop the NDP, based by Rae’s Ontario leadership Sojourn. The irony is so thick I have to wipe it from eyes in order to see. We’ll see how the Libs do in 2015. From my perspective, and living in Manitoba, not able to take Brandon-Souris with the Liberals sailing with following seas tells me Trudeaumainia doesn’t exist and he’ll actually have to get people to vote for him based on what he thinks. When he opens his effete, shallow, vacuous, Jack Layton (blessed be his memory) insulting and stupid mouth,he’ll finished; Mulcair will chew him up and spit out the bones!

          • vampchick21

            There’s something north of Bloor St?????? Wait, what???? ;)

          • dsmithhfx

            Lake Simcoe? Nunavut?

          • vampchick21

            I thought it was a cow pasture. you know, Holt Renfrew, then some pretty pretty meadows, then a cow pasture.

  • mariapd

    I’m glad this will be over, Forum Research will finally stop calling me for my “federal riding of Toronto Centre”, I live in Trinity Spadina. Speaks tons about their faulty methodology.

  • https://paul.kishimoto.name/ Paul Kishimoto

    I was a Trinity-Spadina, rather than Toronto Centre, voter while I was living in the city, but this is an interesting race.

    On platforms, I like McQuaig better than Freeland, especially on the climate issue. But I’m really bothered by the “just visiting”-style attack on Freeland. Whether or not it’s “a sound strategy,” it’s a shortsighted one that only succeeds to the extent that voters are convinced to accept a false premise: people who have spent time outside Canada bring no useful knowledge, experience or connections back with them. In reality some, like me, leave for the express purpose of doing that.

    • JGHali

      I think this is true up to a point, but Freeland didn’t come back to work in Toronto and bring said experience, but rather to run as a star candidate for the Liberals. Would she have returned otherwise?

      • https://paul.kishimoto.name/ Paul Kishimoto

        I don’t know if she would have.

        I was about to object to the premise that “run as a (star) candidate” is mutually exclusive with “work & bring experience,” but I guess that’s actually true of a depressingly large number of MPs.

      • OgtheDim

        Since when is becoming a Toronto area MP not working in Toronto?

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    I recently moved from Trinity–Spadina to Toronto Centre and haven’t seen any sign that anyone but McQuaig and Freeland are in this race.

  • OgtheDim

    You know, the line between the populism inherent in McQuiag’s utterings about residency and Ford’s populist utterings about real taxpayers isn’t all that far apart.

    Anyways, I was wondering why the NDP went for that tactic, and then I saw many of the posts below. The NDP intelligentsia might despise the Tories, but they absolutely loathe the Liberals. I’ve seen this rhetoric repeated time and time again – especially that the Libs are now looking like they are not going to do what the NDP intelligentsia wants, and die off. The NDP hierarchy would do well to remember that Canadians tend to vote for, rather then against.

    I’m not saying that Trudeau is a wonderful guy and all. But, going after somebody for coming back is the cry of people who have forgotten that most Canadians don’t see politics through their lens.

    Frankly, the hatred of the Libs runs so deep in the NDP, it is going to sabotage their efforts to form a government. That’s what happens when you have not had your idealism blunted by the pragmatism of having to govern. Something Jack never quite was able to get his party to understand – sometimes you have to work with the bastards in order to beat the bastards later.

    • dsmithhfx

      Not much to differentiate between the political orthodoxies accepted by Liberals and Conservatives that have jointly and alternately led the country to the brink of economic ruin (believe it or not, extreme income disparity is a symptom). The NDP has done a piss-poor job of articulating or perhaps even holding any kind of alternative vision. I think nice guy Layton bears a measure of responsibility for that. Basically we’re nowhere, leaving the field wide open for a federal Rob Ford to blow through.

    • tyrannosaurus_rek

      “The NDP hierarchy would do well to remember that Canadians tend to vote for, rather then against.”

      I’m not sure this is true. Take for examples the successful demonization of the Liberals by Harper (entitlements etc), or the century of Liberal–Conservative scandal ping-pong dating from the days of John A MacDonald.