Amid rumours that longtime Toronto Centre MP Bill Graham may decide not to run in the next election, an unofficial campaign to win the Liberal nomination for the riding is heating up.
But there may not even be a nomination race if Liberal leader Stéphane Dion appoints one of his former leadership rivals, Bob Rae or Martha Hall Findlay, to the nomination. That prospect has some would-be candidates fuming, but neither Rae nor Hall Findlay will comment on the possible appointment. They’re waiting for Graham to announce his intentions for the riding, which includes the gay village, Rosedale, Cabbagetown and Regent Park.
“Let’s take it a day at a time in terms of where the seat will be,” Rae recently told CTV’s Question Period.
Graham, who has held the seat since 1993 after two unsuccessful attempts in 1984 and 1988, is not feeding the rumours of his retirement.
“He’s aware there are lots of rumours, but he has not made up his mind. He will make an announcement at the appropriate time,” says Cristin Napier, Graham’s executive assistant.
So far, at least two candidates, Rob Oliphant and Meredith Cartwright, admit to some unofficial campaigning for the nomination. A third, Mathieu Chantelois is openly musing a bid. A fourth candidate, Davies Bagambiire, is rumoured to be in the race, but denies even considering a bid.
Oliphant is an out gay man and United Church minister who worked as an advisor to former Liberal Ontario Premier David Peterson. He says he wants to represent the riding to fight poverty and support youth and human rights issues.
“The gay agenda, I think, has shifted,” says Oliphant, who lives in Cabbagetown with his partner. “The legislation that we have needed regarding hate, violence, marriage, is done. But there are some transgender issues that I think our government has to address, and international human rights for gay and lesbian people, and I think Canada has to do more speaking up on these issues.”
Out lesbian Meredith Cartwright is perhaps best known as the lawyer for Bill Dwyer, whose 1996 case against Metro Toronto won same-sex pension benefits in Ontario. She currently works as an instructor at University Of Toronto’s Sexual Diversity Studies program, and is president of the Toronto Centre Women’s Club for Ontario Liberals.
“My record as someone who has spoken up for equality rights stands for itself and I think I could represent the interests of Toronto Centre well,” says Cartwright, who lives with her partner and their daughter. “People know me. They know that I’m a fighter and they can trust me to speak out on issues of equality and social justice.”
Former reality TV star and OUTtv host Mathieu Chantelois, who is currently chair of the board of the 519 Community Centre, won’t say if he’s in the race, but rumours are circulating that he has been selling Liberal party memberships to potential supporters.
“For now I’m not seeking any nomination, simply because we don’t know if there will be any nominations,” says Chantelois, who lives with his partner Marcel. “We don’t know if Bill Graham is resigning, and I will always be loyal to Bill. Also, it’s possible that Stéphane Dion will be appointing someone without a nomination.”
Bagambiire, an immigration lawyer and the provincial Liberal riding association president for Toronto Centre, denies any interest whatsoever, but insiders suggest he may be trying to quash rumours for political reasons.
“Those rumours are not founded. I will not be throwing my hat in the ring if Mr Graham decides not to run,” Bagambiire says.
All of this posturing may prove fruitless if Dion appoints Rae or Hall Findlay into the nomination. Both have taken important positions within the party’s election committee and have confirmed they intend to seek seats in the next election.
But Cartwright isn’t willing to accept such an appointment lying down. She’s created a website, Supportmeredith.com, where she encourages supporters to sign an e-petition to maintain an open race for nomination.
“They’ve left me with no choice,” Cartwright says. “The nomination process is the point at which most women are shut down and the point at which a leader’s support makes a crucial difference.”
In the event that either Rae or Hall Findlay chooses to seek the seat in an open nomination process, both Oliphant and Cartwright are ready to challenge the nomination.
“I’ve been a Liberal all my life. Bob Rae has been a Liberal for a number of months,” says Oliphant. “I think it’s time for this riding to have an openly gay representative.”
Cartwright also makes subtle references to Rae’s history, including his failure as Ontario premier to grant same-sex benefits.
“My political consciousness was formed in 1993 over the [failed] same-sex omnibus bill before the Ontario Legislature, and like so many of my peers, I have been working tirelessly to achieve these rights for the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans] community,” says Cartwright.
Meanwhile, rumours are floating around the riding that the Conservatives will run an out gay man in Toronto Centre. Calls to the Conservative Party were not returned before press time.