Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair is joining Justin Trudeau's team, hoping to boost Liberal fortunes in suburban Ontario and help to deflect Conservative attacks on law-and-order issues.
In an interview, the star candidate said he had "respectful conversations" with officials from other parties, but stated he ultimately felt that his values aligned most closely with those of Mr. Trudeau. Mr. Blair, 61, is seeking the Liberal nomination in the riding of Scarborough Southwest – currently in the hands of the NDP – while making it clear he disagrees with the Conservative government's approach to crime and national security.
"One of the greatest threats to public safety is fear," Mr. Blair said, when asked about the government's current policies. "Sometimes, I find that the tough talk is nothing more than political rhetoric. We need to be more thoughtful than that."
Mr. Blair is expected to have an impact on the Liberal platform on justice and community issues, explaining he has "a lot of ideas" after 38 years in policing, including a decade as chief of the Toronto Police Service.
He said that in his view, "evidence-based public policy is better than public policy based on political calculation." He rejected allegations that Mr. Trudeau and the Liberals are "soft on crime" or "soft on terror."
"I've been a cop for 38 years, I've locked up a lot of people," he said. "There are people who need to go to jail. But at the same time, I also know you can't arrest your way out of some of those very challenging conditions that our communities find themselves in."
The Conservative Party has responded to recent terror attacks by stating that Canada is at war with the international jihadi movement and criticizing the opposition's stand on terrorism at every opportunity. However, the Liberals are arguing that the government is also fostering prejudice toward Muslims.
"I think we need to work harder to make sure that we make all of our communities inclusive and that we reach out across every cultural divide and bring people together," Mr. Blair said. "That commitment to pluralism and diversity and multiculturalism … is what has made my city one of the safest and more livable cities anywhere in the world."
Mr. Blair said he was impressed by Mr. Trudeau's recent speech on issues of personal freedoms, in which he expanded on his vision of liberty and inclusiveness.
"I also found that, perhaps more than anyone else, [Mr. Trudeau] was open to a very reasonable, respectful discussion on issues of public interest and social justice. I felt there would be an opportunity to bring my voice, my lived experience to that discussion," Mr. Blair said.
He addressed the controversy in Toronto over the Police Service's carding policy, by which officers stop and question people who aren't suspected of a crime. The policy has been harshly criticized by some community groups. Mr. Blair argued that when conducted lawfully, it is a useful tool, although he insisted it must not be an excuse to engage in racial profiling.
"That can never be tolerated and is totally unacceptable. They are not the same thing," he said.
He also offered his support for the Liberal Party's position on Bill C-51. The Liberals are voting in favour of the government's anti-terrorism legislation, while promising new and enforced oversight of security and intelligence agencies if they form the next government.
The first step for Mr. Blair is to win the Liberal nomination in the riding, where former CTV anchor Tim Weber has already launched his campaign to be the party's candidate in the next election.
NDP MP Dan Harris was knocking on doors in Scarborough Southwest on Sunday, and the NDP said the issue in the coming election campaign will be replacing Stephen Harper's government.
"We're running against Conservatives to defeat them, and our goal is to defeat as many Conservatives as possible," NDP spokesman George Soule said.
Mr. Blair was born in Scarborough, where he raised his three children. He moved closer to the Toronto Police Service headquarters four years ago, to be nearer to work, after his children had moved out of the house. He said his wife would like to return to the neighbourhood, and did not close the door on moving back to Scarborough.
"It is my community," he said. "I'm not ready for retirement; I want to continue to work."