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Rae to run for Grits in gaybourhood

Former premier beats out lesbian lawyer in tense vote

Former premier and Liberal leadership candidate Bob Rae won a nomination contest on Mar 26 to run for the Liberals in Toronto Centre in the next federal election, succeeding longtime MP Bill Graham.

The nomination meeting at the Courtyard Marriott capped off a contest that began months ago amid rumours of Graham’s retirement from politics and Rae’s own coyness about where he would make a bid for a seat.

Rae seemed eager to battle out an election in an acceptance speech that compared the governing Harper Conservatives to the US Republican Party but also suggested voters might be left waiting until the next year’s federal budget for an election.

“They’ve had two budgets that did nothing for hardworking Canadians. They’ve had their chance. Third time, they’re out,” he told the crowd.

Although he did not mention Toronto Centre’s gay community during the victory speech, he did make a nod to minority rights, calling the Liberals the “party of the Charter.”

“At some point in our lives, in some circumstance, we’re all gonna be minorities and that’s why we have a Charter to protect minorities,” Rae said to cheers and applause.

Toronto Centre is one of Canada’s most diverse ridings, incorporating the gaybourhood, Rosedale, St Jamestown and Regent Park.

Rae defeated lesbian lawyer Meredith Cartwright, who had campaigned fiercely for the nomination. Cartwright had signed up more than 800 members and launched a website urging Liberal leader Stéphane Dion to maintain an open nomination process when rumours circulated that Rae would be appointed to the nomination. In the wake of the results, Cartwright vowed to stay active in politics.

“I’m disappointed, but it’s good for democracy,” she says. “I’ll be back. Without a doubt, I’ll be running again.”

Cartwright, who played Heather Small’s gay anthem “Proud” before her speech, made no mention of queer voters, prompting some in the audience to question her commitment to the community. Cartwright attributed the omission to a lack of time to address all of her concerns.

Local MPP and out gay man George Smitherman opened Rae’s speech with a list of Rae’s accomplishments for the Toronto Centre riding during his time in public life. Queers didn’t make it into Smitherman or Rae’s pre-vote speeches either, although Rae did boast of supporting the Charter Of Rights on grounds of diversity as a federal MP.

“We are the people of the world,” Rae said. “We celebrate not only tolerance, but diversity.”

Although the Liberal Party does not release official vote breakdowns, sources say that Rae was the choice over Cartwright by a two-to-one margin. Despite the result, each campaign believed it to be a close race, and worked right down to the wire to get supporters to the polls.

While Rae’s team counted more than 1,200 members to Cartwright’s 800, some of his volunteers worried that his support was softer; many of his members had signed up during his leadership bid months ago or were signed up by prospective candidates Rob Oliphant and Mathieu Chantelois, who had both switched to Rae’s camp.

Turnout for the nomination meeting was low — 800 out of 2,400 riding association members — which some blamed on bad weather.