Canvassing through Leslieville, Osgoode Hall law professor and NDP candidate Craig Scott is greeted like something of a rock star.
“That’s Craig Scott!” shouts one woman walking down Curzon St.
“You’ll get my vote. I want you to know,” says another walking her children home from school during lunch break.
Scott’s signs are already ubiquitous on the streets of the riding, thanks in part to a deeply-rooted NDP machine there that sent former leader Jack Layton to Parliament four times. Scott is hoping to take Layton’s place as the MP for Toronto—Danforth in the byelection scheduled for Mar 19.
While the byelection won’t fundamentally alter the balance of power in Parliament, Scott says voters are telling him they want an MP who will be an effective opposition to the Harper Conservatives.
“People are a combination of scared, angry, and fed up with the Harper government,” he says. “They want to make sure that we’re sending somebody who’s going to be part of an effective team to counter these guys and who’s going to be an attractive alternative in 2015.”
Scott says the NDP is best placed to galvanize opposition to Harper in time for the next scheduled federal election.
“Effective opposition appeals not just to the votes in Parliament but to the population at large, and it gets the government nervous and they back off,” he says.
Scott hails from Nova Scotia, where he completed a law degree at Dalhousie. He’s lived in Riverdale for 20 years and has worked as a human rights advocate in Honduras, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, as well as on domestic issues such as aboriginal rights and housing discrimination.
He says he’s been an NDP voter all his life and has previously worked with the party on policy issues, but it was Layton’s legacy that led him to pursue deeper political involvement.
“After Jack died I was one of I think many people who felt I should step up to the plate to make good on the vision that he had helped establish in Canadians’ minds,” he says.
While initially planning to focus on policy, he was eventually recruited to run by members of the party.
“I would be disingenuous if I didn’t say that following on from Jack is a daunting prospect. It’s an honour that I was nominated,” he says.
Toronto-Danforth is a dense, urban, diverse riding with a large and growing gay and lesbian population, particularly in Leslieville, Riverside, Riverdale, and along the Danforth. Scott says the diversity is what makes the riding a great place to live.
“My experience is that people are remarkably tolerant, including partly because they seem to understand how their own experience of discrimination crosses lines about how they should understand others’ discrimination,” he says. “It’s not creating side-by-side juxtaposable silos.”
The diversity also presents opportunities to build bridges on issues of mutual concern, Scott says.
““Family reunification is something that’s a really nice fit for this riding, many of whom have just become citizens. I’ve become aware of how important and frustrating the FR process is for new cultural communities. The delays are atrocious,” he says. “Many gay and lesbian members of the community have professions that take them out of the country where they meet their partners There’s the whole question of making sure their partner can come on a timely basis.”
If elected, Scott will be one of five out gay MPs in his party and one of six in Parliament. He hopes this will give him a platform to make life better for Canada’s queer community.
“Just by serving well and doing what I do with integrity will make a difference,” he says. “I don’t think in any sense the battle for inclusion and acceptance, let alone embrace, is anywhere close to being won. I think we’ve made amazing strides in this country, including because of an amazing open straight community across this country compared to many other countries. But I think there are lots of interests and folks in Canadian society who are looking for way to rollback all or many of the achievements.”
Scott also wants to work on issues around HIV/AIDS and disability support.
“I want to make sure that doesn’t just drop off the agenda with things like massive spending cuts ,” he says.
Scott’s opponents in the byelection include Grant Gordon (Liberal), Andrew Keyes (Conservative) and Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu (Green).