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Toronto byelection: Ex-Winnipeg mayor gunning for Ontario seat says he's all about Toronto - Metro US

Toronto byelection: Ex-Winnipeg mayor gunning for Ontario seat says he’s all about Toronto

He may have been the mayor of Winnipeg, but Glen Murray says he’s all about Toronto.

Even while holding the top job in Manitoba’s capital or campaigning for a federal seat, he was always a big fan of Canada’s most populous city, he says.

“One Conservative candidate said in a certain election that if I’m going to be such a champion for Toronto, then maybe I should move there,” says Murray, who hopes to win Thursday’s byelection for the Ontario Liberals.

“I thought that was very good advice.”

Having lived in Toronto for about five years, the 52-year-old is taking a stab at provincial politics, a new direction for a man whose resume includes local activist, foster dad, municipal leader and federal candidate.

“While I’m extraordinarily proud of my residency in Toronto – and I love my community, it’s the most walkable and connected community you can possibly live in this country – I’m no less proud of anywhere else I lived,” he says.

“It’s the richness of having both local and global experience in many other places also makes me unique, because that’s the experience of most people in Toronto Centre.”

Although he was born in Montreal, Murray has a connection to Ontario. His Ukrainian grandmother set down roots in Hamilton after immigrating to Canada in 1908, despite being told that it was a frozen wasteland.

She had seven children and lived in a two-bedroom apartment, trying to make ends meet working as a cleaning woman. His mother grew up with the stigma of poverty, which Murray says drew him towards public service.

“It’s amazing; if my grandmother had lived long enough to see me get elected, to be a visiting fellow at a university or have my own business … that was just not seen as possible when she was a young woman in this country,” he says.

“And to me, that experience is, we never want to lose those values of inclusiveness and hope. We never want to lose this value of public service.”

In 1998, Murray became the first openly gay mayor in a major Canadian city when he won the Winnipeg race. After leaving office, he took a run at a Manitoba seat in the 2004 federal election, but lost to Conservative Steven Fletcher.

He now lives in Toronto with his partner Rick, a nurse who works at the Toronto Western hospital. He’s also fostered children, but doesn’t go into details. The ups and downs of his relationship with his foster son Mike, however, were the subject of a 1992 documentary.

During his time in municipal politics, Murray lobbied for more public housing and secured a deal with Ottawa that saw a portion of the gas tax transferred to municipalities while serving as chairman of the Big City Mayors Caucus. Toronto Centre is reaping the benefits of that work today, he says.

He’s also gained knowledge of local issues through his job as chief executive of the Canadian Urban Institute and teaching at the University of Toronto’s Massey College, he adds.

From the rich set in Rosedale to the immigrants living in poverty-stricken St. James Town, the riding’s hodgepodge of cultures and classes makes it the “most complex constituency in the country,” he says.

“That is, to me, exciting because this is the heart and soul of our future,” he said.

“It’s a sense of Canadians being global citizens almost at the same time that they’re Canadians, and using their vast networks of around the world to generate wealth, to generate relationships and to impact … on our ability to be an example to the world of social cohesion and peace and civil society.”

Former staffer Diane Poulin calls Murray “one of the hardest working people I’ve ever seen.”

“Twelve-hour days were completely normal for him – six days a week – when he was the mayor,” says Poulin, who served as Murray’s spokeswoman when he was mayor.

His biggest strength is his ability to put people from opposite ends of the political spectrum together and “mix it up,” she added.

“He really grasps the big picture quickly and then he keeps working towards that big goal,” Poulin said.

“In politics, sometimes it’s two steps forward and one step back. And he seems to really know how to keep an agenda moving forward.”

Murray’s political experience in urban, municipal and environmental issues has fuelled speculation that if elected, he’ll soon be on the fast-track to cabinet.

He’s already served on Premier Dalton McGuinty’s advisory panel on climate change and an advisory group on how to manage growth in a great swath of southern Ontario called the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Murray also has experience in aboriginal affairs from his days as mayor of Winnipeg, where the population is about 10 per cent aboriginal, Poulin said.

The environment, poverty and urban issues are all close to his heart, he said.

But if McGuinty is expecting to add another quiet backbencher to the Liberal ranks, he’s got another thing coming.

“There’ll be 10 new ideas a day,” Poulin says with a laugh. “The challenge is to get the one that we can all do today.”

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