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Jeffrey Simpson (Brigitte Bouvier for The Globe and Mail)
Jeffrey Simpson (Brigitte Bouvier for The Globe and Mail)

JEFFREY SIMPSON

When things get serious, Trudeau will need some firepower Add to ...

Toronto Centre is a riding accustomed to attracting political kingpins. Ideally, Justin Trudeau and the Liberals would love to attract one for the by-election to replace Bob Rae – especially a candidate with extensive financial and business experience. So far, no luck.

Mr. Trudeau has an engaging Peter Pan quality to him. He’s focusing on younger voters and social media. He’s trying to contrast his youthful, upbeat self to the opposite personality and style of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Which is all well when kissing babies, but when politics gets more serious – that is, when the next election approaches – Mr. Trudeau needs to have built a team. And that team has to complement his own talents, which means having some heavyweight thinkers and doers aboard.

In particular, it means drawing some financial and business firepower to his side. The Conservatives are going to run the campaign around their ostensibly strong economic record, and contrast it with Mr. Trudeau’s lack of economic experience. To blunt that charge – if it can be blunted – Mr. Trudeau needs people on his team with what the British call “bottom,” that is, experience and intellectual heft.

When the Liberals were successful, they had such people. Think of Paul Martin in Jean Chrétien’s cabinet. Think of Donald S. Macdonald, minister of finance and energy in Pierre Trudeau’s cabinet and MP for Rosedale, the precursor of Toronto Centre.

Senior Liberals know that Toronto Centre, which includes part of the country’s financial district, would be a good seat for such a candidate. Having such a candidate, assuming her or his election, would allow Mr. Trudeau to parade around saying implicitly and reassuringly that although he’s not every experienced, the new Liberal MP for Toronto Centre certainly is.

But thus far, the trolling for such a candidate has passed through the political waters without a bite. Getting people from the private sector to run for public office is tough most of the time.

With all the recent shenanigans in Ottawa, a scathing media and a governing party with its attack-dog mentality, the recruiting task has never been harder. Similarly, the idea of an “open nomination” that the party has endorsed makes it hard for a leader to pave the path to a nomination for someone he really wants and who will help the party.

To put matters another way, why would anyone give up a successful and likely well-paying job in the private sector to wind up as an MP for any party, let alone the Liberals with their third-party status in the Commons?

By way of illustration, look at the core of the Conservative cabinet. Most of them, starting with the Prime Minister and running through ministers John Baird, Tony Clement, James Moore, Jim Flaherty, Rob Nicholson, Peter MacKay and Jason Kenney have spent most of their adult lives in or around politics.

Toronto Centre, like Rosedale before it, has had political heavyweights: David Walker and David Crombie for the Progressive Conservatives; Mr. Macdonald, Bill Graham (Minister of Foreign Affairs) and interim leader Bob Rae.

Mr. Rae won the seat with 41 per cent of the vote in the last election. It’s a winnable Liberal seat, although the riding will change after redistribution. The northernmost part, Rosedale, with its solid Liberal core, will go to a new riding of University-Rosedale.

What’s left – the exact boundaries are still in flux – will run from just south of Bloor Street in the north to Front Street in the south, and from the Don River to Yonge Street. The new riding will still be winnable for the Liberals, but also for the NDP.

Todd Ross is the only declared candidate as yet for the Liberal nomination. He’s a consultant and a self-described community activist who’s been involved in various causes. Another possibility is Sachin Aggarwal, who was a big organizer for Michael Ignatieff in the 2006 Liberal leadership contest and later joined the opposition leader’s staff.

Other possibilities include former provincial cabinet minister George Smitherman, young Liberal activist Zach Paikin and corporate lawyer John Campion. It will help the eventual winner of the nomination (and the riding) to be well-regarded in the large gay community.

All the possible candidates have undeniable talents. But do they have the “bottom” that the leader needs?

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