Jack Layton's legacy looms in Toronto byelection

Residents of Toronto-Danforth will head to the polls Monday in a byelection that will fill the federal seat left vacant by the death of Jack Layton.

Sunday marked last day of campaign for Toronto-Danforth seat

Voters will elect a new MP for Toronto-Danforth on Monday, a riding left open by the death of NDP leader Jack Layton. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Residents of the Toronto-Danforth riding head to the polls Monday in a byelection that will fill the federal seat left vacant by the death of Jack Layton.

Layton, who held the riding for seven years as an New Democrat MP and party leader, died of cancer last August at age 61 after leading the party to its best federal showing and Official Opposition status in last May's federal election.

Craig Scott, an Osgoode Hall law professor specializing in human rights, is the NDP candidate. Scott beat out two other NDP hopefuls for the party's nomination in January. Running for the Liberals is Grant Gordon, an advertising executive who won the bid to be candidate in February.

Craig Scott (NDP), Grant Gordon (Liberal), Andrew Keyes (Conservative) and Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu (Green Party) are vying for the Toronto-Danforth MP seat, left vacant by the late Jack Layton. (Candidate websites)

Andrew Keyes is running for the Conservative Party and Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu is representing the Green Party.

It's widely thought to be a race between the NDP, which has controlled the riding for years, and the Liberals, who held the seat before that.

Layton's legacy still looms large over the socially and ethnically diverse east Toronto riding, and candidates from both parties have already noticed the effect.

"Toronto-Danforth wants a representative they can be proud of; who can — in their own way, obviously — aspire to some of what Jack achieved," Scott said. "And I think of it in terms of a very high bar that he set that I'll be reaching for constantly, and I hope I'll be able to grab it more often than not."

Layton, Rae seen in campaigns

The ever-present memory of the NDP's former leader is not lost on the Liberal who hopes to take the riding back for his party.

"In the beginning it felt like I was running against two NDP candidates," Gordon said. "But now, for sure, people are looking forward. I'm just running against Craig and it's about the future."

However, it hasn't only been the Liberals who have felt they've been running against two opponents: Lots of neighbourhoods  feature signs for interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae, whose political career began with victories in the riding as a New Democrat in an October 1978 byelection and again in 1979 and 1980.

"The billboards are all over the riding," Scott said. "Apparently, one of [the Liberals] side campaigns has been to make it look like I'm running against Bob Rae."

"It sure helps," Gordon said, regarding Rae's endorsing him. "He's very popular in this riding. He's popular with the NDPers and he's popular with the Liberals."

Trudeau aids campaign

Quebec Liberal MP Justin Trudeau, who helped Gordon's campaign this past week, acknowledged Layton's legacy in the riding and likened his fellow Liberal to the man who was so popular with the community.

"People have such a tremendous affection for Jack Layton, right across the country and right here," Trudeau said while visiting the riding. "A lot of people are very, very proud of the kind of person Jack was … you know, and Grant fits that. He's personable, he's friendly and he's connecting with people."

The byelection comes as New Democrats are preparing to select Layton's full-time successor at their convention in Toronto next week. Nycole Turmel has served as the party's interim chief since Layton's death.

In 2004, Layton defeated incumbent Liberal Dennis Mills by 2,395 votes. Layton became leader of the NDP in 2003.

In 2006, Layton beat Liberal candidate Deborah Coyne by 7,156 votes and in 2008 he won by 7,125 votes over Liberal Andrew Lang. In the last federal election, Layton won more than 60 per cent of the vote in the riding.