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Why media personalities are fighting over Bob Rae’s riding

Why are so many media personalities fighting to replace Bob Rae in the riding of Toronto Centre? In part because the candidates know the upcoming by-election is a dress rehearsal for not one riding, but two.

Journalistic myopia also has much to do with it.

Toronto Star columnist and author Linda McQuaig is seeking the nomination for the NDP in a by-election slated for later this year. She will be competing for the nomination against the broadcast journalist and host Jennifer Hollett.

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Whoever wins the NDP nomination will likely take on the author and former Globe journalist Chrystia Freeland, who is returning from stints abroad to seek the Liberal nomination for the riding.

In other circumstances, the parties might have avoided pitting such high-profile talent against each other in a contest only one can win.

But two factors are in play. One is redistribution. As I write here, Ontario is receiving 15 new ridings in the next election, in order to boost its representation in the House of Commons to something approaching what its population warrants.

Toronto will get two of those ridings. One of them is in suburban Don Mills. The other essentially bifurcates the existing riding of Toronto Centre. Whoever wins the by-election will get to choose next time out between staying in Toronto Centre, which will encompass part of the lower downtown, or running in the new riding of University-Rosedale, which covers the University of Toronto and several exclusive neighbourhoods.

The losers may decide to seek the nomination in whichever riding the winner vacates.

There is another, more subjective, reason for this obsession over Toronto Centre. The riding has always assumed an outsized importance in the minds of Toronto journalists, academics, artists and the like because so many of them live in it.

But the suburban constituencies of Toronto – from Scarborough to North York to Etobicoke – have more influence in choosing the prime minister (and the Ontario premier, and Toronto's mayor) than the downtown ridings.

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There are more of those suburban constituencies, and they better reflect the values of the vast swathes of ridings outside Toronto, in the so-called 905.

Those ridings are, however, foreign soil for many of the people who vote in – and who care so intensely about – Toronto Centre. And besides, a Linda McQuaig or a Chrystia Freeland might not play as well in Scarborough as in the downtown.

So maybe it is better that they stick close to home.

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About the Author
Writer-at-large

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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