NDP members in Jack Layton’s riding of Toronto-Danforth have chosen Craig Scott to represent them in the next by-election.
Mr. Scott, who teaches international law at York University’s Osgoode Law School, said he plans to start knocking on doors as soon as he finishes marking his students’ assignments. “I will be hitting the streets and getting to know people from almost Day 1,” he said.
He won the nomination after a single round of voting.
Hundreds of party members crowded into the pews at the Metropolitan Community Church in Riverdale Monday evening to cast their ballots. The meeting began with a slideshow tribute to the late Mr. Layton that brought a few of the party’s members to tears.
And Mr. Layton’s name was on every candidate’s lips as they tried to persuade local NDP members that they would be the best person to further his legacy.
Mr. Scott told reporters he wouldn’t try to fill the former NDP leader’s shoes, but planned to follow in his footsteps instead. He added he hopes to bring strength to the party on foreign-affairs files and by helping to take the Conservatives to task at committee meetings. But he’ll have to win a coming by-election first.
Toronto-Danforth is an important riding for the federal New Democrats, and Mr. Scott could face a real battle to keep the riding in NDP hands.
“There’s a fair amount of pressure,” riding president Bryan Dale said before the meeting began. “We’re certainly not taking the seat for granted.”
There is a separate process to select Mr. Layton’s successor at the national level, but at least two of the candidates for leader of the federal NDP turned up at the riding nomination on Monday: Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar and Parkdale-High Park MP Peggy Nash.
Mr. Layton’s widow, Trinity-Spadina MP Olivia Chow, and her city councillor son, Mike Layton, also attended the event.
“I know the future of Toronto-Danforth is in very good hands,” Ms. Chow told the audience as the ballots were being counted.
Toronto-Danforth was held from 1979 to 1982 by Bob Rae, the current interim Liberal leader who was at that time a member of the NDP. He was succeeded by Lynn McDonald, another New Democrat, who was the MP until 1988.
Then it was lost to the Liberals, who held it for the next 16 years.
Dennis Mills, the popular Liberal incumbent, beat Mr. Layton in 1997 by more than 7,000 ballots.
In 2000, when Mr. Layton did not run, Mr. Mills took more than 50 per cent of the vote.
So it was politically risky for the man who was named leader of the NDP in January, 2003, to take another stab at the riding in 2004. That time, however, he emerged on top.
Toronto-Danforth was the only seat in Toronto that the party won that election and was just one of 19 taken by the NDP across Canada.
But in that campaign, with Mr. Layton running on the slogan “You don’t know Jack,” the New Democrats doubled the number of votes they received in 2000 and their leader’s victory established a beachhead for his party in Canada’s largest city.
It was the start of a rebuilding process that saw the NDP win eight seats in Toronto in 2011 – an expansion of support that was followed, just three months later, by Mr. Layton’s death from cancer.
"Obviously it’s a significant riding for us after a year of ups and downs,” said Sally Housser, the party’s deputy national director.
The NDP strength is growing in Toronto, Ms. Housser said, and it is important for the party to keep every seat in that city.
“Jack has built up a good riding association,” Ms. Housser said. “We’ve got very active volunteers and lots of people out beating the streets in this by-election to ensure that we retain Toronto-Danforth for the NDP for years to come.”
There is no question that this by-election will be bittersweet for New Democrats even if the party emerges victorious.
But, said Ms. Housser, “we are looking at moving the party forward and building on all the fantastic work that Jack Layton has done, both with the party and with his own riding.”
Mr. Scott defeated Claire Prashaw and Justin Duncan to take the riding nomination.
Ms. Prashaw is a former constituency assistant to Mr. Layton and has worked internationally on micro-enterprise initiatives and with at-risk youth. She calls Mr. Layton her mentor and said she hoped to carry on his work and inspire young people to get more involved in federal politics.
She has worked with the Coalition for Gun Control in the past and her website says she has fought to keep the long-gun registry alive amid Conservative efforts to abolish it.
Mr. Duncan’s website says that, as an environmental lawyer with Ecojustice, he works to “enforce the law and hold polluters to account.” He said he also wanted to work on job creation, balancing the budget and maintaining public services.
It’s up to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to decide when the by-election will be held in Toronto-Danforth. He has until Feb. 22 to select a date.