Two weeks after Liberal MP Arnold Chan died after a battle with cancer, potential candidates are waiting to hear if his widow, Jean Yip, a former Queen’s Park staffer, plans to run for the coveted nomination in Scarborough-Agincourt.
“If she decides to run, I don’t think anyone would challenge her,” said Toronto city councillor, Jim Karygiannis, who represented the federal riding of Scarborough-Agincourt for more than 25 years, in a telephone interview with The Hill Times.
Mr. Karygiannis said neither he nor any member of his family has any plans to seek the nomination and will not get involved in the nomination process. He said he knows Ms. Yip well, and that if she decided to run and won, he would help her in the byelection. Mr. Karygiannis said she would prove to be a good MP and would carry on Mr. Chan’s legacy in the riding.
Mr. Chan, who was 50 years old when he died on Sept. 14, was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer a few months after he was elected to the House in the 2014 byelection. That byelection was triggered after Mr. Karygiannis resigned his seat.
Ever since her late husband was diagnosed with cancer in 2014, Ms. Yip played a key role in helping Mr. Chan perform his political work in the riding. In the last election, she helped him organize campaign events, she went door knocking, and attended political events in the riding.
“He was always out at events, even if he was sick, very cordial, very nice guy. He couldn’t hurt a fly,” said Mr. Karygiannis. “Jean did the work, and she’s carrying on Arnold’s legacy.”
Hratch Aynedijan, also a Queen’s Park staffer and a potential candidate interested in the riding’s nomination, said most candidates are waiting to hear from Ms. Yip and said if she does decide to run, he and most of the other prospective candidates would stand down.
“If Jean runs, out of respect for Arnold, people will back off, but if it’s somebody else, other people might be interested in running,” said Mr. Aynedijan in a phone interview with The Hill Times. “She’s the most active wife of a politician that I know of. She’s incredibly energetic, she does a lot of the background work, [when the riding association] executive meets, she’s there, she’s the one running the show.”
Mr. Aynedijan is executive assistant to Ontario PC MPP Raymond Cho. He said he’s currently not a member of any political party. Mr. Cho was elected the Ontario MPP for the riding of Scarborough-Rouge River in a byelection last year.
Other potential candidates who are rumoured to be interested in seeking the Liberal nomination include: Toronto city councillor Gary Crawford, Ontario MPP Soo Wong, and Nick Mantas, a political aide to Mr. Karygiannis.
Ms. Wong represents Scarborough-Agincourt provincially and is the nominated Liberal candidate provincially for the next election. She did not respond to an interview request. Mr. Crawford, who represents the Scarborough Southwest ward, was not available for an interview last week. Mr. Mantas, who also worked in Mr. Karygiannis’ MP constituency office, also did not respond to an interview request.
Most people interviewed for this story last week declined a comment, saying out of respect for Mr. Chan and his family, and to wait until Mr. Chan’s funeral which took place on Saturday, Sept. 23.
A prominent GTA Liberal, meanwhile, told The Hill Times that if Ms. Yip decided not to run, most of the potential candidates would look for any indication from the party’s leadership if it had any preferred candidate in mind and if it did, serious candidates would not run, the source said.
“No one wants to waste their time,” a Liberal source told The Hill Times. “If the party had any preference, then it won’t be a close race. In fact, no serious candidate would run.”
Colin Lynch, the Liberal riding association president in Scarborough-Agincourt, told The Hill Times that the riding association currently has around 230 members. He said no potential candidates had talked to him yet, but also said these were early days and most riding association members were not discussing this subject out of respect for Mr. Chan’s family.
Scarborough-Agincourt has been a Liberal stronghold since it was first created in 1988. Mr. Karygiannis represented this riding for about 25 years until he stepped down in 2014. Other than the 1988 and 2011 elections, Mr. Karygiannis garnered more than double or, in some cases, five times more votes than the second-place candidate’s votes. In 1988, Mr. Karygiannis won by a margin of 858 votes, and in 2011 by 4,568 votes.
When Mr. Chan ran for the Liberal nomination in 2014, he described Scarborough-Agincourt as “Jim’s riding” in an interview with The Hill Times.
In the byelection, Mr. Chan garnered 59.3 per cent of the votes while the second-place Conservative candidate Trevor Ellis won 29.2 per cent, and the third-place NDP candidate won only 8.4 per cent.
In 2015, Mr. Chan won 51.9 per cent, the second-place Conservative candidate 38 per cent, and the third-place NDP candidate 7.9 per cent.
Prior to Mr. Chan’s election to the House, he served as a Queen’s Park ministerial staffer.
On June 12, Mr. Chan had delivered an emotional and powerful speech in the House, saying he wasn’t sure how many more 20-minute speeches he would be making in the Commons as he continued to battle his resurfaced cancer, but he said he had no intention of resigning his seat.
Mr. Chan urged MPs to listen to each other rather than talk over one another and to drop the canned lines and talking points. He said elected office is a high privilege and the House deserves respect. He also said if MPs work together, they could accomplish so much more and said he hoped his colleagues on both sides do take his comments to heart.
So last week, MPs from all parties paid tribute to Mr. Chan in the House on Sept. 18 while Ms. Yip and the couple’s three sons were also present in the public gallery.
In his speech, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) called Mr. Chan a “true devotee of the parliamentary world” and said he will remember him for “his sense of humour, his wisdom, and his calm demeanour.”
“Here in the House, Arnold tirelessly defended the interests of his constituents,” Mr. Trudeau said. “It was here that Members across party lines came to know an effective Parliamentarian and a man of principle. As many of my colleagues know, he never tired of this place. He often attended debates even when he was not participating in them. For him, it was an opportunity to see our democracy in action.”
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) said Mr. Chan won the respect of MPs on both sides of the House.
“Members of our House, on all sides, came to respect his experience, his knowledge, his passion, and his collegiality,” Mr. Scheer said. “His devoted service on behalf of his constituents won him the support of the people of Scarborough-Agincourt, and today we know he will be missed greatly by those he represented so well in the House.”
NDP MP David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre, Ont.) remembered Mr. Chan as a true politician who was not interested in playing “political games.”
“He understood the strength and value that came from a report or a recommendation that all members supported and he was always looking to build bridges and find common consensus,” said Mr. Christopherson. “This approach, combined with his sharp intellect and a great sense of humour, made him a natural leader on our committee, and a voice of reason in a place where sometimes reason can be in short supply.”
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale (Regina-Wascana, Sask.) said: “If there is one bit of advice that Arnold Chan would give this House, it would be to proceed with the public business of Canada and to do so with substance, civility, and strength. We will all strive to do that in his memory.”
Bloc Québécois MP Gabriel Ste-Marie (Joliette, Que.) said: “Arnold Chan dedicated his life to politics in Toronto and Ottawa. He could have spent more time with his family and friends but he served the public and his fellow citizens instead. Then came the damn cancer, a really terrible disease. Arnold was a really good guy, a nice fellow, always smiling, affable, brilliant, and certainly much too young to leave this world. Of course, my thoughts are with his wife and his three sons, who lost their dad much too soon.”