VIDEO: Ross counts on community connection to win Liberal nod in Toronto-Centre

Todd Ross, a former navy man and a long-time assistant to former Ontario Liberal MPP George Smitherman, has heard the rumours that federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau favours the candidacy of journalist Chrystia Freeland in Toronto Centre but he is not deterred. He believes his long and constant connection to the riding — which includes some of the city’s poorest and richest neighbourhoods — St. James Town to Rosedale — will stand him in good stead with Liberals in the riding.

The date for the nomination has yet to be set but, according to three Liberal sources with knowledge about the riding, there were, as of last week, about 1,175 members of the Toronto Centre Liberal riding association, a number that has grown only by about 300 since the nomination race began. (Diana Burke is the third nominee running).

Trudeau promised open nominations in all ridings and yet there are some grumblings among Liberals in Toronto that Trudeau has his thumb on the scale in favour of Freeland.

First, a telephone campaign from the Freeland campaign originates from the same number that the Trudeau leadership campaign used. Some Liberals take that as a sign that Trudeau’s leadership team has given Freeland’s team his call list. Not so,  the Freeland team tells Postmedia’s Stephen Maher. They simply hired the same firm to do their telephone work as Trudeau’s leadership team.

But two sources tell me that live calls have been placed to Liberals in the riding which begin “This is the Liberal Party of Canada calling …” and then go on to solicit report for Freeland. Of course, the party itself should not be calling. It should be the the “This is the Chrystia Freeland campaign calling ..” For now, the Liberals telling me this say this is more likely a case of telephone volunteers going off-script.

Still, even if, as Trudeau’s people claim, that he is doing nothing to suggest he prefers one candidate or another, simmering rumours could have a negative impact on candidate recruitment in other ridings as good potential candidates worry that, without Trudeau’s blessing, they won’t win a nomination.

Of course, Freeland herself still has to win the nomination and I am told by several Liberal sources that, so far, she’s been underwhelming in terms of her ability to connect with Toronto Centre Liberals and that, if she was not in the race, Ross would likely be a heavy favourite.

Still, this race is shaping up to be significant for politicos far beyond the borders of Toronto Centre. Why? The National Post‘s John Ivison summed it up nicely last month:

…the most interesting take-away from this whole affair is how similar Mr. Trudeau’s new politics are to the discredited old politics of previous Liberal leaders. Open nominations have fallen at the first hurdle. How much faith should anyone place in his other democratic reform pledges – loosening the grip of the Prime Minister’s Office; introducing changes to the electoral system; banning partisan government advertising?

Personally, I think it’s entirely sensible for the leader to reserve the right to parachute “star” candidates into safe seats. But when your whole unique proposition is that you are an agent of change, it behooves you to live up to your own heady rhetoric. “Doing politics exactly the same way as Jean Chrétien” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

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