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Smitherman hands off Toronto-Centre seat to Glen Murray

It was widely considered to be a Liberal lock, and Glen Murray hung on to a comfortable lead throughout the night. Murray will be the next member of provincial parliament for Toronto-Centre, a riding that includes the country’s largest gay village.

With all polls reporting, Murray, the Liberal candidate, finished with 47 percent of the vote. That represents a sizable lead over New Democrat Cathy Crowe (33.2 percent), Progressive Conservative Pamela Taylor (15.4 percent) and Green candidate Stephan Premdas (3.1 percent).

Murray, who is gay, is the former mayor of Winnipeg. He’s called Toronto home for a half-dozen years.

Federal politicians, including Toronto Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, were on hand to celebrate the victory.

“Glenn is going to be fantastic for Toronto,” says Bennett. “As someone who is a previous mayor, he understands that it’s about neighbourhoods, it’s about communities, that it’s never one-size-fits-all. There is an absolute conviction that if you listen to the communities affected, you will find the solutions.”

She described the results as they trickled in as "nerve-wracking" because by-elections can be volatile, especially when it comes to voter turnout.

Even so, the by-election sprint was relatively uneventful — with a couple of exceptions. The prospect of Grace Hospital closing sent shockwaves through the campaign, but the reigning Liberals doused the controversy by agreeing to invest in the Toronto-Centre facility.

Murray was also criticized for backing out of a televised debate on public broadcaster TVOntario. He appears to have weathered both storms.

Outgoing MPP George Smitherman hugged Murray after the announcement. Smitherman says although he's pleased with his record over the last 10 years representing Toronto-Centre, “invariably” he has left some unfinished business.

“Toronto-Centre is a riding that cries out for ongoing economic and social progress,” he says, “but there’s a lot I can point to that I’m pleased that I’ve stabilized.”

As for successes, Smitherman points to funding for the Sherbourne Health Centre, AIDS service organizations and the re-listing of sex-reassignment surgery under the Ontario Health Insurance Program.

Smitherman, who resigned from his job at the legislature to seek the Toronto mayoralty, isn’t anxious to saddle Murray with his loose ends. The work of choosing priorities is up to Murray and his colleagues now, he says.

An all-candidates debate at the 519 Community Centre in January was long on rhetoric and short on promises, but Murray promised to tackle the increasing criminalization of HIV in Ontario. He frequently told voters to give him a chance and then assess his record during next year’s provincial election 20 months from now.

At the boisterous victory party, Murray and premier Dalton McGuinty were
introduced by another gaybourhood MPP, Yasir Naqvi of Ottawa. Murray
thanked his volunteers, colleagues and his partner, Rick.

The Jack Astor’s at Yonge and Dundas was packed with Liberal
politicians, including McGuinty, Naqvi, Smitherman, Bennett, lesbian MPP Kathleen Wynne and
former cabinet minister Bill Graham.

Even a relatively dull campaign has its moments of intrigue. In the final days of the election, the PC candidate, Pam Taylor, outed
federal Conservative cabinet minister John Baird as gay. At the
celebration of the election of a public gay figure, Bennett couldn’t
resist a little barb about the controversy.

“It’s a shame,” she says, “that some of our other elected representatives aren’t comfortable being out.”

Taylor, who placed second in 2007, fell to third behind the NDP this time.

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