A distinct difference has emerged between the two frontrunners trying to author their own success in the race to win the Nov. 25 federal byelection in Toronto Centre.
Journalists who have published books on income inequality, both women are taking their first stab at politics, and even live in the same Summerhill neighbourhood. But that’s where the similarities end. NDP candidate Linda McQuaig is coming out swinging while Liberal Chrystia Freeland is refusing to punch back.
McQuaig, 62, and Freeland, 45, are taking a hiatus from their lives as writers in hopes of starting a new chapter in the world of politics. They lead a pack of six candidates looking to succeed Bob Rae as MP, after the former Liberal interim leader stepped aside in July to take on a negotiating role with a group of First Nations activists.
Within hours of the announcement of the byelection, McQuaig had issued a challenge to Freeland, via YouTube, to debate her on the issue of income inequality, something she says would highlight another difference between the two.
McQuaig told the Town Crier in a phone interview that her Billionaire’s Ball: Gluttony and Hubris in the Age of Epic Inequality and Freeland’s Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else are “very different books with very, very different approaches and solutions,” and suggested Freeland’s time away from Canada has made her unaware of income inequality here.
Freeland spent severeal years abroad as a journalist.
“She’s running for office in Canada and has lived outside of Canada for most of the last 20–25 years,” she asserted.
Freeland casually brushed off McQuaig’s sentiment, saying the diversity of Toronto Centre is a reflection of Canada as a whole, such that someone who has been in the riding a week has the same civic rights as someone who is a fifth-generation descendant of Canadians.
“Toronto Centre is a particularly diverse part of a diverse country,” Freeland said. “I am delighted to be back home and I feel incredibly comfortable and happy here.
“There’s no back of the bus in Canada. There’s no back of the bus in Toronto Centre.”
The Conservative Party of Canada had hoped to make inroads in the longtime Liberal riding by fielding local resident and lawyer Geoff Pollock. His campaign did not respond to requests for an interview.
Other confirmed candidates are John Deverell for the Green Party, and independents Leslie Bory and Bahman Yazdanfar. Fringe candidates Kevin Clarke for the People’s Party and Travis McCrae for the Pirate Party did not make the Elections Canada’s candidates list despite public announcements that they were seeking the seat.
Clarke, a former homeless man who has contested elections at all three levels of government, described himself as a “shoo-in” to win.
The Liberal Party has held the riding for 20 years, and had captured at least 50 percent of the vote until two years ago, when Rae managed only 40 percent, to the NDP’s 30 percent.
Freeland said it was on party leader Justin Trudeau’s suggestion that she is taking the plunge into politics.
She said it came about while she was engaged in a lengthy discussion with him about her 2012 book on income inequality. He asked her a question she had often heard during the book tour: what are you going to do about it?
Trudeau then suggested she consider vying for the nomination for the Liberals and then for becoming Toronto Centre’s next MP, she said.
“He said … ‘if you can get through those hurdles, then I would love to have you as a member of my team,’” she said. “So that’s what persuaded me to take the plunge.”
Her most recent book played a role in her decision, but McQuaig says her plunge into politics was a long time coming.
“My interest in the subject of rising inequality led me to write that book and others, and has also been a driving force for me getting into politics so I can do something about the subject,” she said.
McQuaig says the Liberals have been taking Toronto Centre for granted for a long time and Trudeau is “plucking” Freeland into the riding with a self-serving purpose.
“What I’m saying is that suggests a real arrogance on the part of Trudeau and the Liberals,” she said. “There were Liberals who were known in the riding who would have been perfectly suitable candidates, but Justin Trudeau was so taking the riding for granted that he felt he could handpick somebody that he wanted and thought would be suitable for his inner circle.”
Freeland countered that her campaign isn’t taking anything for granted and those on her team are “working their socks off” with canvassing and being involved in community events. She said she’s running a campaign similar to that of her party’s leader.
“Just as Justin (Trudeau) has been emphasizing his campaign is a team effort, my campaign here in Toronto Centre is a team effort,” she said. “I, personally, and the Liberals in general, are running a really positive campaign and what people are interested in I strongly believe is what we have to offer, so that’s what I’ll focus on.”