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A Toronto resident signs a condolence book for late NDP leader Jack Layton at city hall on Aug. 22, 2011.Michelle Siu

Jack Layton's death left big shoes to fill at the head of the federal New Democratic Party. But he also left a vacant seat in Toronto–Danforth.

On Friday, Craig Scott, a professor at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School, announced he will seek the NDP nomination in the riding that has been without an MP since Mr. Layton succumbed to cancer this summer.

And Brian Topp, the former party president who is considered a front-runner in the race to succeed Mr. Layton as leader, threw his support behind his candidacy.

In a telephone interview with The Globe, Mr. Scott said he has dedicated his career to fighting for human rights and social justice. "I am motivated by a sense of urgency about the serious challenges that we face in the country."

The Conservatives, he added, are taking Canada in regressive directions that could prove irreversible. "If they are re-elected in 2015, the country may never look the same."

Mr. Scott is also deeply concerned about the environment. "I think ecological collapse is very much part of the future in the next 20 to 30 years," he said. "I have enough of a sense of urgency and a sense of how one might begin to make people more aware that this is an ongoing priority and not just something that we respond to every now and again when there is some type of crisis or emergency."

Mr. Scott received the endorsements of Charles Taylor, a noted professor of philosophy at McGill University and long-time New Democrat activist, and James Orbinski, the chair of global health at University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs.

The New Democrats will select a candidate early in the new year. Prime Minister Stephen Harper must call a by-election within six months of Aug. 22, the day Mr. Layton died.

The nomination is also being sought by Claire Prashaw, Mr. Layton's former constituency assistant. In a release to announce her interest in the seat, she said: "Jack was my boss, my mentor and my friend. He inspired me to love my city and my country and to dedicate myself to working with the people in the riding of Toronto-Danforth."

There had been some speculation that Mr. Topp, who resigned his post as party president to run for leader, would try to win the Toronto-Danforth seat.

But Mr. Topp said Friday that he was supporting Mr. Scott. "I think he'll do a great job as our next MP there. As for myself, I intend to focus on the leadership race until it's over."

His strong preference, he said, is to run for a seat in his home province of Quebec "since our breakthrough there is fundamental to defeating and replacing Mr. Harper in the next election."