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The potential battle between journalists Linda McQuaig and Chrystia Freeland for the riding of Toronto Centre is shaping up as an economic battle between the NDP and the Liberals for the hearts of voters across Canada.
Ms. Freeland advocates incremental efforts to lessen the economic disparities between the 1 per cent and the rest of us, while Ms. McQuaig champions a more aggressive program of higher taxes and stronger state control.
The relevance of this campaign to the rest of the country depends on the extent to which the ideas of either of these prominent public voices can be translated from the downtown Toronto constituency they seek to represent to the place where much of the middle class actually resides: the vast swaths of suburban ridings outside the downtown.
Bob Rae's old seat – his resignation prompted the need for a by-election expected later this year – comes with its own bully pulpit, simply because so much of Central Canada's media class lives in or near it. That could be why not one, but three, prominent journalists are fighting for a nomination.
Ms. McQuaig announced Monday that she is seeking the NDP nomination. The Toronto Star columnist, who is also the author of several books, has long argued for higher taxes on corporations and the rich to protect and advance social programs, and for greater economic autonomy from globalization in general and the United States in particular.
While Liberals talk a good game, she said in an interview, their approach is to "take the full hit of the consequences [of globalization] and try to mitigate them a bit."
But if, as Ms. McQuaig believes, globalization is "a deliberate set of policies that are deliberately put in place by a very powerful elite that pushes this agenda, then we can change the policies."
Ms. McQuaig is competing for the nomination against broadcast reporter Jennifer Hollett, who lists "human rights and social justice" on her Web page as primary concerns.
If Ms. McQuaig does prevail, then her most serious competitor is likely to be Ms. Freeland, who has returned to Canada after a decade practising journalism outside the country.
The former deputy editor of The Globe and Mail has written extensively on the social and economic tensions created by income inequality, as the very rich get very much richer and the middle class struggles to cope.
Ms. Freeland declined to comment on Ms. McQuaig's announcement, saying that "my twin focus, right now, is on running for the Liberal nomination in Toronto Centre, which I am pursuing relentlessly, and in organizing schools for my kids."
She added, however, that she is very concerned about the threat that income disparities caused by globalization pose to the future of a large and stable middle class, and that "we have to be really smart," in finding ways to protect middle-class mobility and security.
Ms. Freeland, should she win the Liberal nomination, is considered the favourite to win Toronto Centre, because it has never gone NDP. But the riding splits in two for the 2015 election, because of redistribution. Ms. McQuaig said it was far too early to speculate on whether she would run in Toronto Centre in 2015 if she loses the by-election. But there is a very real chance that both women could be in Parliament after the next election.
The Conservatives have not yet fielded a candidate for Toronto Centre. But they take issue with the notion that they have neglected the middle class; their majority government rests on suburban middle-class voters.
John Ibbitson is the chief political writer in the Ottawa bureau.