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First Liberal and NDP candidates declared in race for Toronto Centre

LGBT activist Todd Ross and journalist Jenn Hollett first to declare

Jenn Hollett talking to supporters at the launch event for her campaign to be the NDP candidate for Toronto Centre. Credit: Rob Salerno
The campaign video of Jennifer Hollett, running for the NDP nomination in the federal Toronto-Centre by-election. Jennifer Hollett

The first candidates to replace outgoing Toronto Centre MP Bob Rae have made their intentions known, with longtime LGBT activist Todd Ross throwing his name in for the Liberal nomination and journalist and former MuchMusic VJ Jennifer Hollett announcing her bid for the NDP nomination.

Ross launched his campaign at an event at Spirits on Church Street July 23. He’s an out gay M├ętis and a former naval officer originally from New Brunswick with a long history of involvement with queer organizations, environmental and aboriginal causes. Ross is currently a senior manager at the HIV/AIDS hospice Casey House, chair of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, and a founding member of the Rainbow Railroad, an organization that helps settle queer refugees in Canada.

As a Liberal Party activist since 1987, Ross says he’s happy to hold his record against any of the high-profile candidates who are rumoured to be seeking the Liberal nomination, including former MPP and mayoral candidate George Smitherman who confirmed to Xtra that he was considering a bid, and former CTV National news correspondent and talk show host Seamus O’Regan, who has been rumoured to be preparing one.

“There may be some big names there, but I challenge them with what are they doing in the riding now,” he says. “I’m trying to recruit people who are concerned about the environment, health care, and human rights. There are a lot of people who are concerned with what’s happening in Ottawa, and there’s a chance to send a community person who is liberal up to Ottawa to fight for the community.”

Hollett launched her campaign at the Paintbox Bistro in the Regent Park redevelopment July 24. She’s an award-winning journalist, perhaps best known to Canadians for her stints as a MuchMusic VJ and on talkTV. She holds a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard and has been a leader in organizations dedicated to international human rights and women’s issues.

Hollett says she was inspired to get into politics by the late NDP leader Jack Layton.

“He showed what was possible for progressives in Canada. I thought okay, you know what, I think this is the time. I started actively thinking about it. I didn’t expect a byelection to be called so soon, but I’m very excited for the opportunity right now,” she says.

Hollett says she’s driven by income inequality.

“The cost of living is so expensive for people. A big part of that is housing. Rent is too expensive and even if you own a home, to get into that market or to maintain your cost of living, that’s a big challenge,” she says.

Hollett, who is straight, says she wants to work with the queer community to advance queer causes.

“I think while there have been great gains, there’s also challenges for people coming from other parts of the world seeking refuge. I think there’s still a lot of challenges and discussions around transgender issues,” she says.

Trans activist Susan Gapka has been rumoured to be considering a bid for the NDP and has refused to rule one out.

Both candidates will face nomination races in their respective parties before an eventual byelection, which will likely be called in the fall. Neither party has announced dates for its nomination meetings.