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The Globe and Mail

Liberals hope to paint Layton's Toronto riding red again

A toddler holds a boquet of orange flowers at a memorial to Jack Layton outside the late NDP leader's Toronto constituency office on Aug. 23, 2011.

Michelle Siu/Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

Liberal Party president Alfred Apps is counting out Stephen Harper's Conservatives, predicting a two-way fight with the NDP for Jack Layton's Toronto seat.

He is expecting, too, a big open nomination battle among Liberals fighting to be the candidate.

The late NDP leader's Toronto-Danforth riding was Liberal for three elections before Mr. Layton won it in 2004. The NDP leader died last Monday and was honored with a state funeral Saturday in Toronto. Since then, speculation has grown as to who will replace him for the leadership, as well as who will win his coveted Toronto seat.

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Mr. Apps, a Bay Street lawyer who knows the Toronto political landscape well, told The Globe Wednesday that Mr. Layton won the seat because of his "terrific municipal background and powerful personality."

He added: "Jack actually won it on the strength of his personal reputation and charisma."

The Liberals saw their fortunes diminished in both downtown and suburban Toronto areas in the May 2 election, losing seats to both the NDP and Tories. So a by-election win for the Liberals would be a huge boost for the third party.

"I expect we will be having an open nomination," Mr. Apps said. "So it is impossible to predict who our candidate will be, but I expect there will be many vying for it."

According to the Ottawa Citizen, Andrew Lang – the son and stepson of two Trudeau-era cabinet ministers who ran in Toronto-Danforth against Mr. Layton in the last election – will try again for the Liberal nomination.

A date for the by-election has yet been set. But on Tuesday, the House of Commons Speaker declared the seat vacant – which puts the Prime Minister on the clock to call a vote within 180 days.

It's unclear who the NDP will put forward in the riding, but Mr. Apps said "maybe Brian Topp wants to run there if he wins the leadership."

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The NDP president is hinting broadly that he will seek the leadership. Although he has Quebec roots he has been based in Toronto for a number of years.

Brad Lavigne, principal secretary to the NDP leader, told The Globe his party's focus in the next election is to "defeat the Conservative government by earning the trust of even more Canadians. And unlike other parties we don't take voters for granted."

He added: "With respect, of all the hurdles we have to clear to form the next government of Canada, the Liberals in Toronto-Danforth is not one of them."

And though the Conservatives would not comment on the by-election, one Tory MP couldn't help but mock the Liberals. He suggested they try a sardonic campaign slogan: "Vote Liberal. The Danforth loves third parties."

Liberals wrap up caucus amid merger mania

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae, who spent Tuesday trying to shut the door on suggestions his party consider a merger with the NDP, will meet reporters again Wednesday.

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The third party has scheduled a closing news conference after their summer caucus retreat wraps up. More merger questions appear likely, given the NDP now appears to be split over what should happen in the face of a Conservative majority.

Mr. Rae said Tuesday his priorities are the priorities of Canadians – jobs, health care and the environment. He also said he is preoccupied with rebuilding and reorganizing his diminished team into "a real fighting party."

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