The most important by-election in the history of democracy

Toronto Centre gets its clash of media titans

The Liberals and New Democrats now have candidates for the presently vacant seat assigned to Toronto Centre and now begins the most important campaign in the modern history of Canadian progressivism a potentially entertaining contest between two people who are highly Googleable.

“The upcoming byelection in Toronto Centre is really going to be a bellwether as Canadians contemplate who can best lead this country in the post-Harper era,” McQuaig said in a rabble-rousing, tub-thumping speech to nearly 400 New Democrats packed into a hot standing-room only auditorium at a downtown YMCA here.

Anne Kingston wrote about the race last month for the print edition.

Toronto Centre actually only exists, in its present form, for another two years. Then the new boundaries take effect and it becomes a new version of itself.

In 2011, when the Liberals had a well-known incumbent (Bob Rae) but the New Democrats were surging to the best national result in party history, the result was a 6,000-vote win for the Liberals—the Liberal and Green votes went down, while the New Democrats and Conservatives went up. That was the closest result there since 1988, when the riding was Toronto Centre-Rosedale.

Two years ago the New Democrats were at 31% nationally and 26% in Ontario, while the Liberals were at 19% nationally and 25% in Ontario. Last month, the Liberals led the NDP nationally by 13 points (36 to 23) and provincially by 18 points (39 to 21).

On the basis of those numbers, Toronto Centre would seem likely to elect Ms. Freeland, but by-elections are odd little things and campaigns matter and there is no incumbent this time and the New Democrats are running a candidate whose writing prospective voters might be familiar with.

So this could be fun. At the very least, the all-candidates debates should be interesting. And when it’s all over we’ll all have something from which to extrapolate great and profound meaning about the state of things for Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Mulcair. Ms. Freeland’s experience, whatever the result, will also make for easy comparisons to Michael Ignatieff—who has a book about his experience coming out next week. And probably, one way or another, this by-election will get us at least a long essay on the political experience.

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