Toronto-Centre MP Bill Graham formally announced he would not be seeking reelection at his riding association meeting Feb 22, ending months of speculation.
Responding to concerns that the party would parachute a candidate into the riding against the membership’s wishes, Graham also announced that there will be an open contest in April for the Liberal nomination in the coveted riding, which includes Toronto’s gay village.
Graham, a former cabinet minister who has held the riding since 1993 and served as interim leader of the Liberal party when Paul Martin stepped down in 2006, says he will not be endorsing any candidate for his job.
“I think as a Member Of Parliament my job is to make sure there’s a fair and open process and that the party comes together when it’s over,” he says. “That’s the role I’d like to play, like I did when I was interim leader.”
Former Liberal leadership candidate Bob Rae was at the riding association meeting, fuelling speculation that he would seek the nomination. At press time, Rae had not yet confirmed his intentions but was expected to make an announcement this week. On Feb 27 The Globe And Mail reported Rae had recently purchased a house in the riding.
So far, the only candidate who has formally came forward is lawyer and out lesbian Meredith Cartwright. She started an on-line petition urging the Liberal party to keep an open nomination, which she claims generated thousands of hits and hundreds of letters to Liberal leader Stéphane Dion.
“I had to fight to enter the fight and they’re allowing me the fight,” Cartwright says. “It really speaks well of the Liberal Party and speaks well of the leader.”
Meanwhile another candidate who had fuelled gossip about his potential candidacy, 519 executive director Mathieu Chantelois, has removed himself from the race to support Rae’s potential candidacy.
“I had a chat with Bob Rae and I told him I would be one of the persons supporting him for the nomination,” says Chantelois. “I think he’s a great social activist and a great leader.”
Although not yet in the race, Rae says he’s pleased with the support he’s received.
“I’m very honoured to have been asked by so many people to think about it,” he says.
The other candidate unofficially campaigning for the nomination, United Church minister Rob Oliphant, had not decided at press time whether he would be seeking the nomination.
“We’re weighing out the information,” says Oliphant, an openly gay man. “Bob Rae is a formidable candidate, I have to acknowledge that. I have to find out what the rules of the nomination are so I can see if it’s still feasible for me.”
There are concerns in some circles that the nomination rules will favour Rae’s potential candidacy by putting an early cut-off date for members to join the party in order to cast a vote. Rae is widely viewed as the establishment candidate with the broadest network of supporters in Toronto-Centre’s various neighbourhoods.
According to party rules, a cut-off must occur between seven and 90 days before the nomination meeting is held; both dates will be set by the Ontario campaign cochairs. But Judi Longfield, the executive director for the federal party’s Ontario chapter, says that an early cut-off is unlikely since the meeting hasn’t even been called yet.
“There is not a cut-off at the moment, but this is not a time to be sitting around,” says Longfield. “File the nomination papers, get yourselves approved, get your membership forms and start selling. We can’t call a meeting until we have nomination forms.”
People wishing to vote for the nomination must be members of the party who live in the riding. Anyone can purchase a membership on-line at the party’s website.
If elected, Cartwright would be the party’s first elected lesbian.
“I would not only be the only lesbian, but also the only mother of a young child. That’s a voice that’s completely absent,” Cartwright says.
Graham says he is proud to have been a supporter of gay and lesbian rights in his years in government.
“In 1993 we didn’t have the protection of the Criminal Code, pension payments, and gay and lesbian marriage,” he says. “I think all Canadians can be very proud of where we are. I’m very proud that I was able to participate in that over the years.”
With the incumbent out of the race for the next election, Ontario’s two other major parties are also making moves for the seat. Last week, the Conservatives announced that business lawyer Mark Warner would be their candidate for Toronto-Centre in the election.
Warner, whose website lists his community involvement as a volunteer with the Regent Park Health Centre, the Cabbagetown Youth Centre and as a delegate to last year’s International AIDS Conference, did not return phone calls and e-mail requests for an interview.
The NDP is still seeking a candidate for the riding, says Toronto-Centre NDP riding association president Murray Gaudreau.
“Currently we’re undergoing a candidate search process, which is something we do before every campaign federally and provincially,” he says. “We actively engage LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisesexual, trans people], youth and people of colour to find people who may be interested.”