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Linda McQuaig and Chrystia Freeland are the NDP and Liberal by-election candidates, respectively, for Toronto Centre.MICHELLE SIU/The Globe and Mail

The battle for the heart of Toronto is shaping up to be a war of wordsmiths.

In concurrent nomination events Sunday, the Liberal Party selected Chrystia Freeland while the NDP picked Linda McQuaig as their candidates for an as-yet unscheduled by-election in the downtown riding of Toronto Centre. Ms. Freeland and Ms. McQuaig will go head to head in the race to replace Bob Rae.

A former editor and columnist at The Globe and Mail, Ms. Freeland has spent much of her working life abroad. She jumped into the race after moving to Toronto from New York, where she was managing editor of Canadian-owned Thomson Reuters.

"I think the world economy is at a tipping point," Ms. Freeland told reporters after claiming the nomination."Things are changing really profoundly and only the countries, companies and people who figure out that this is a consequential moment are going to make it."

Before ballots were cast, former Liberal provincial politician George Smitherman urged party faithful to elect Ms. Freeland over community organizer Todd Ross and former bank executive Diana Burke.

"It's Freeland for me," Mr. Smitherman said. "This is the genuine article. She's a woman of conviction, of passion, experience and value."

The New Democrats announced Ms. McQuaig's nomination on Twitter. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair sent a tweet congratulating Ms. McQuaig and said: "Can't wait to see you in Parliament!" Ms. McQuaig, an author and intellectual, defeated former broadcast journalist Jennifer Hollett and Susan Gapka, a singer and activist.

Ms. McQuaig, who is a long-time resident of the Toronto Centre riding, is known for her writing about the rising income disparities in the world. Similarly, Ms. Freeland has written about the demise of the middle class and the concentration of political power within a small circle of global economic winners.

The race in Toronto Centre is more important than most, said Peter Loewen, a politics professor at the University of Toronto. If the Opposition NDP is going to win a majority, they would do well to win this type of riding.

But it will be difficult to dislodge the Liberals, who've held the riding for a long time, he added.

"It gives us some bellwether or some reading of the NDP strength versus the Liberal strength," Mr. Loewen said.

Ms. McQuaig agrees. One of the reasons the race is attracting a lot of attention and well-known candidates is because it comes at such an "interesting, exciting moment in Canadian politics," she said.

Ms. Freeland's campaign organizers – and her move back to Toronto from New York with her husband and three children – raised questions about whether the nomination race is as open as Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has claimed.

Ms. Burke signed up new members only to learn on Aug. 27 that they couldn't vote if they hadn't met the Aug. 20 cutoff. She said the retroactive membership cutoff likely affected all the candidates in the nomination race.

Ray Heard, who served as communications director for former prime minister John Turner and supported Ms. Burke, urged the party to extend the deadline, saying it would quash concerns that it was set to enhance Ms. Freeland's prospects.

Ms. Freeland said it's wonderful how many people have rallied around her, but that's really due to her team's efforts – the "building of a new coalition."

"I think that Toronto Centre, in some ways, is going to be the first act of the 2015 general election," she said.

"I think the stakes are very high and it is a very consequential moment. And that, to me, is one of the reasons to do this."

With reports from Jill Mahoney and The Canadian Press

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