Chrystia Freeland, the Liberals’ new star candidate in the upcoming Toronto Centre by-election, has joined Justin Trudeau’s new economic team.
The Liberal leader introduced Ms. Freeland and Liberal finance critic Scott Brison as co-chairs of the party’s Economic Council of Advisors during a press conference in Ottawa Tuesday.
The appointment is in keeping with Mr. Trudeau’s focus on the state of the middle class – a subject Ms. Freeland, a former journalist, has studied – and the panel’s work is expected to help form the basis of the party’s platform for the 2015 federal election.
“This is about building the kind of solutions and platform that we need to offer Canadians in 2015,” Mr. Trudeau said, calling Ms. Freeland a “tremendous source of strength and expertise for us.”
Ms. Freeland joined Mr. Trudeau to underscore her views on the plight of Canada’s middle class.
“What was tremendously interesting and important for me in fighting for the Liberal nomination in Toronto Centre, is learning you do not have to be an economist, you do not have to have a PhD to know that that squeeze is happening, and to feel it,” she said.
“…What we are doing is putting in place a very serious process and effort to address in a sophisticated, smart way, how we can secure real prosperity for the Canadian middle class going forward. This is not something you can sit down and write a bumper sticker about. It's not a three-point plan you can come up with on a napkin one morning. This is a really, really hard problem. And we are rolling up our sleeves and getting to work on it, starting today,” Ms. Freeland said.
Ms. Freeland is considered a catch for the Trudeau Liberals. Her candidacy was backed by many powerful Liberals and by Mr. Trudeau, leading to questions about the openness of the nomination process. It was Mr. Trudeau who invited Ms. Freeland to consider jumping into politics, and the party quickly envisioned a role for her in developing economic policy.
Ms. Freeland defeated community organizer Todd Ross and former bank executive Diana Burke to win the nomination on Sunday, after the seat was vacated by former interim Liberal leader Bob Rae. Even former Ontario provincial cabinet minister George Smitherman abandoned his hopes of winning the riding to support Ms. Freeland.
In appearing with the candidate he’d pushed for, the Liberal leader brushed aside questions of whether Ms. Freeland would keep her advisory role should she fail to actually win her seat. “She is going to win the confidence of the people in Toronto Centre,” Mr. Trudeau pledged.
Among Ms. Freeland’s opponents is NDP candidate Linda McQuaig, another writer who has also focused on the Canadian middle class. The NDP saw their fortunes improve in the Toronto Centre riding during the 2011 federal election, and on Tuesday Ms. McQuaig challenged Ms. Freeland to debate income inequality in Canada, with the NDP saying the two writers have “come to very different conclusions about the causes and solutions to rising inequality.”
Ms. McQuaig said it’s an acute issue for voters in Toronto Centre. "Let’s give them a chance to see the significant difference between the Liberals and the NDP on this growing problem,” Ms. McQuaig said in a statement Tuesday, released as Ms. Freeland was appearing with Mr. Trudeau. She doesn’t appear likely to get her wish for a one-on-one debate. A Liberal spokesperson said Ms. Freeland looked forward to debating Ms. McQuaig “in all-candidates debates once the by-election is called.”
Ms. Freeland is the author of Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else. After winning the nomination, the former Globe and Mail journalist – who served most recently as a senior editor at Thomson Reuters in New York – said she believes the “world economy is at a tipping point” and that only the “countries, companies and people who figure out that this is a consequential moment are going to make it.”
Her message revolves around the future of the middle class, a theme Mr. Trudeau has sought to build the Liberal brand upon. Since being elected party leader earlier this year, Mr. Trudeau and his fellow MPs have consistently invoked the middle class during Question Period.
In a July 29 Globe and Mail op-ed, Ms. Freeland wrote about the ongoing “economic revolution” that favours a “very small and very lucky and very smart group of people” over the middle class.
“Traditional middle-class jobs are being made redundant by the technology revolution or outsourced to lower-wage economies,” she wrote. “Figuring out how to make today’s vast economic transformation work for the middle class is the central political issue of our time. Without a prosperous, secure middle class, our national economy can’t flourish in the long term. Our democratic society won’t endure, either.”
The seat has been held by the Liberals for several elections, but support has waned somewhat. Mr. Rae won the seat in 2011 with 41 per cent of the vote, ahead of the NDP at 30 per cent and the Conservatives at 23 per cent. Mr. Rae’s margin of victory was down from 2008, when he took 54 per cent of the vote, followed by the Conservatives at 18 per cent and the NDP at 15 per cent.
The by-election for the riding has not yet been called. Mr. Rae resigned over the summer to focus on his work representing First Nations groups in talks over proposed mining development in Ontario’s “Ring of Fire” region.