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Liberals keep Toronto Centre in federal by-election

Chrystia Freeland slams NDP for 'negative' campaign

Former Liberal MP Bob Rae and winning candidate Chrystia Freeland at Jack Astor's, at Yonge and Dundas. Credit: Andrea Houston
The Liberals are holding on to the coveted riding of Toronto Centre, but the race was close right to the end, with Chrystia Freeland edging out NDP candidate Linda McQuaig.
 
As the results rolled in Nov 25, the early numbers showed Freeland and McQuaig neck-and-neck. But just before 11pm, Freeland took a definitive lead to defeat her NDP rival.
 
Freeland, who won the riding with 49 percent of the vote, is the first female MP ever to hold the seat. In her victory speech, she criticized the NDP's “negative” campaign.
 
“This was a really fiercely fought race,” she says. “What we discovered in this race is the NDP have looked at how the Conservatives fight and the way the Conservatives have decided politics should be done in Canada. They decided that the way you win is through negative personal attacks that have nothing to do with what actual Canadians, actual people in Toronto Centre, need and want.
 
“I am so delighted that in the face of that, we stayed positive. We stayed focused on what the people in Toronto Centre need and want. They tried to divide this riding . . . Tonight we said no.”
 
Standing between the two previous Liberal MPs — former interim leaders Bob Rae and Bill Graham — Freeland praised their legacy in the riding. “I really feel I am standing on the shoulders of two giants,” she said.
 
Freeland told her supporters to consider the by-election “the first act of the 2015 election.”
 
The Liberals took the riding with a stronger showing than in the last federal election, in 2011, when Rae won with 41 percent of the vote. Read a summary of the Nov 20 debate at Jarvis Collegiate.
 
Meanwhile, over at the NDP party at the Hot House CafĂ©, at Front and Church streets, McQuaig thanked her supporters and didn’t rule out running again in 2015. The NDP took 36 percent of the vote this time around. That’s up from 30 percent in 2011.
 
Even though the NDP didn’t win, McQuaig says the campaign was a chance to discuss the issue most important to her: income inequality and the widening gap between the rich and poor.
 
“If you asked me six months ago how this would turn out, well, I knew it was an uphill battle,” she says. “We hoped that we would have done better, but I want to point out that we did better than we’ve ever done in Toronto Centre.”
 
The Conservative vote, represented by candidate Geoff Pollock, all but disappeared in Toronto Centre with less than nine percent of the vote, likely a response to the Senate scandal. In the 2011 federal election the Conservatives took 23 percent of the vote. 
 
Chris Drew, a resident of the Church-Wellesley Village, says the gay community had a big impact on the results.
 
“I think the Village was at the heart of this fight, and it was beating strong, both online and at the doorstep,” he says. 
 
Drew, a Liberal supporter, says the narrow gap in votes between his party and the NDP sent a strong message to the Liberal leadership that they have their work cut out for them in 2015.
 
“You can’t take things for granted,” he says. “We heard [from residents] that, in between elections, we need to keep knocking on doors, talking to people, creating dialogue, and if we don’t understand a policy or an issue, we need to engage the community and get educated.
 
“In the Village, there are a lot of really active political people. It doesn’t matter where you live. Whether that’s a condo or a TCHC building, it all matters. Every vote matters. So I think it will be very interesting to see what happens in 2015. It will be extremely competitive.”
 
In three other by-elections Nov 25, the Liberals held on to their seat in the Montreal riding of Bourassa, while the Conservatives held the two Manitoba seats of Provencher and Brandon-Souris.