Byelection called for March 19

After five months without an elected representative in Ottawa, Toronto-Danforth constituents are set to vote for a new Member of Parliament.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the byelection for March 19. The winner will fill the seat once held by Jack Layton, who lost his battle with cancer in August.

The campaign for Toronto-Danforth unofficially began on Jan. 9, when the New Democrats nominated Osgoode professor Craig Scott as their candidate.

The Liberal candidate is Grant Gordon, who runs his own communications firm. Communications consultant Andrew Keyes is set as the Conservative Party candidate. Community organizer Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu will once again represent the Green Party on the ballot. She ran against Layton during last May’s federal election. John Recker, a halfway house counsellor, is the Libertarian Party’s hopeful.

There are whisperings among pundits of a possible Liberal comeback in the riding, but University of Toronto politics professor Nelson Wiseman says it’s an unlikely outcome.

“I think the NDP’s going to win the seat,” he said. “It would be a remarkable upset if it didn’t.”

When Layton was first elected to the riding in 2004, he ousted Liberal incumbent Dennis Mills, who had previously represented the area for over 15 years.

But Wiseman pointed out the NDP still has history on their side. The seat had orange stripes prior to Mills’ tenure. Bob Rae, the Liberal Party’s interim leader represented the riding as a New Democrat from 1978 to 1980.

Today, communities in the riding widely support New Democrats at different levels of government, Wiseman also noted.

Indeed, Toronto-Danforth is represented provincially by MPP Peter Tabuns, while Toronto-Danforth councillors Mary Fragedakis and Paula Fletcher are known NDP supporters as well.

Wiseman noted the party’s current standing is also likely to help keep the seat orange. When Layton was first elected, the party had fewer seats in parliament than the Bloc Quebecois.

“But that was when the NDP’s fortunes were a lot lower in the country as a whole,” he said. “So a lot of things have changed.”

As leader of the party, Layton took the NDP to soaring heights in May, garnering enough seats to become the Official Opposition for the first time in history.

Still, there are constituents who likely took pride in the fact their MP was a party leader, which accounted for Layton’s domination in the local polls.

Wiseman noted the margin of victory might be smaller during this byelection, partially because byelections tend to result in lower voter turnout. He noted there is usually less interest in a byelection because the outcomes usually don’t affect national results.

“Stephen Harper still going to be the Prime Minister, the Conservatives will still be the government, and the NDP will still be the Official Opposition,” he said.