Chrystia Freeland is running for Toronto Centre. Literally.
On a mid-November night in Moore Park, with the temperature dipping below zero, the Liberal candidate in the Nov. 25 byelection in Toronto Centre runs between houses while canvassing door-to-door.
“You can’t get through this neighbourhood without running,” Freeland quips as she takes off to the next house, on Errington Avenue.
That house happens to have a large Liberal lawn sign planted firmly by the sidewalk.
“These guys are already supporters,” she says, before heading up the walk to the front door. “I’m going to knock and say thanks.”
Behind the door is a familiar face: a personal friend and financial donor to the Liberal campaign, something that happens with some regularity over the course of a couple of hours.
Despite the fun, Freeland recognizes a serious side to the campaign. She says she’s fighting two battles at once in this byelection, and neither is a battle she feels she can afford to lose.
“I really feel that our motto is ‘don’t take anything for granted’ and I think that is the absolutely correct and essential motto to have,” she said post-canvass. “This is really hotly contested, and we face stiff competition from the NDP in the south part of the riding, and then the Conservatives are present in the north part of the riding.”
Though the Conservatives have arguably not been strong contenders in Toronto Centre since last holding the riding in the 1988 election, Freeland is not willing to ignore them as contenders.
“I always tell people I think it’s important to remember the national picture,” she said. “It’s important very much not to write
the Conservatives out of the story. They are the government of the country.”
The race has mostly been discussed as a two-way battle, however, between Freeland and NDP candidate Linda McQuaig. They are seen as comfortably ahead of Conservative Geoff Pollock in their pursuit of the seat vacated by former interim Liberal Party leader Bob Rae, who is now representing a Native interest group in talks with the Ontario government.
Eight other candidates are running. Along with four independents, they include Green Party nominee John Deverell, Libertarian Judi Falardeau, the Online Party of Canada’s Michael Nicula and Progressive Canadian Party candidate Dorian Baxter, an Elvis impersonator and priest who goes by the name The Reverend Elvis Priestly.
The list is rounded out by Bahman Yazdanfar, who has previously run as part of the Canadian’s Choice Party; Leslie Bory, who previously claimed to be part of the Maple Party of Canada; John Turmel, who holds the Guinness World Record for most elections contested and lost (with 78 and 77, respectively); and former homeless man and mayoral candidate Kevin Clarke, who is also founder of the provincial People’s Political Party.
The mixed bag of candidates reflects the diversity of the riding itself, but one thing that’s consistent throughout the riding, according to Freeland, is the political engagement of its constituents.
“Toronto Centre is a riding, in my experience, where people are very smart and very well-informed, and so you sort of get what’s happening on a national stage and can feel it coming through the canvass,” she said, likening it to how social media works. “It’s kind of like trending on Twitter, trending on your canvass — as different stories trend you kind of feel them coming through your canvass.”
Those stories, including the Senate scandal, have been indicated in recent polls as affecting the opinion of voters on which party
they would support in the next election. And Freeland thinks the four federal byelections on Nov. 25 will be the best reflection of where the nation’s opinions truly lie.
“I think they are being viewed by a lot of the media, politicos and some voters as a big test of the national mood,” she said. “And probably the biggest one we’ll have ahead of the general election.”
Considering that mix of local political awareness and current headlines regarding scandals in government, Freeland thinks a change from the traditional results of byelection voter turnouts may be in the offing.
“You should be careful not to draw too many conclusions from anecdotal experience,” she said. “Voter turnout is low in byelections, but talking to people we find that people are pretty engaged.”
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