Liberal Arnold Chan was elected in the Toronto riding of Scarborough-Agincourt in a federal byelection Monday. Chantal Da Silva-CBC/Radio Canada
The Liberals will nab one Toronto riding from the New Democrats and hold on to another in byelections tonight, while two Conservative candidates retained electoral districts in Alberta, CBC News projects.
As was expected in Alberta, Conservative candidates John Barlow and David Yurdiga won in Macleod and Fort McMurray-Athabasca, respectively.
It was a good day for the Liberals and leader Justin Trudeau. The party ran Arnold Chan, a former lawyer and corporate manager, in the densely Chinese-populated Scarborough-Agincourt riding, where he held on to the seat that was for 25 years represented by Jim Karygiannis.
Perhaps the bigger story, however, was new Liberal candidate Adam Vaughan's victory in the hotly contested race against New Democrat candidate Joe Cressy for Trinity-Spadina. The riding had been an NDP stronghold held by former NDP MP Olivia Chow, who is now running for mayor of the city.
"Democracy works when we all work with hope and hard work," Vaughan said in his victory speech in Toronto, surrounded by young Liberals campaigners in red shirts.
"You don't win elections, you don't build parties, and you don't change governments without bringing new people to the conversation, the Liberals have always been very, very good at this," he added.
NDP strategist Marit Stiles said she saw the turnover to the Liberals less as a rejection of the New Democrats than as a testament to a star candidate.
"It's been a long-held NDP riding, certainly. Olivia Chow had it for years. But previously it was a Liberal riding," Stiles said. "We had a very high name-recognition candidate in the Liberals with Adam Vaughan, and Joe Cressy was a very exciting new candidate, but a new candidate. I think it would have been difficult to hold that seat with somebody with that kind of name recognition."
Although the two Alberta ridings of Fort McMurray-Athabasca and Macleod were perceived as virtual locks for the Conservatives, political strategists will be looking closely at vote percentages to judge how much momentum the Liberals may be gaining.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has campaigned three times in the oilsands heartland to back Liberal candidate Kyle Harrietha in Fort McMurray-Athabasca. A dramatic increase in Liberal support could be an indication of voter dissatisfaction with the Conservatives.
The Conservatives won by healthy margins in Alberta in 2011, capturing 72 per cent in Fort McMurray-Athabasca and 77 per cent in Macleod. But pollster NikNanos, chairman of Nanos Research, said a drop in support by as much as 20 points in these byelections would spell trouble.
"It would suggest a significant proportion are not happy and want to send a message to Harper," Nanos told CBC's Power & Politics host Rosemary Barton. If the ballot results don't show a significant vote split, Nanos added, "the Conservatives have to be nervous."
Vaughan's victory in Trinity-Spadina is a coup for the Liberals, who are keen to sell themselves as a reinvigorated party under Trudeau's stewardship. Public opinion surveys show more Canadians giving popular support to the Liberals than the Conservatives, followed by the New Democrats in third place.
Since 1972, every time the Liberals won Trinity-Spadina they have gone on to form government; every time the NDP took the riding, the Conservatives have taken power.
Marcel Wieder, a Liberal strategist and CEO of Aurora Strategy Group in Toronto, called the Vaughan win "the shot in the arm" that Trudeau's party needed, especially coming up to an election year.
The momentum could help the Liberals in their quest to reestablish themselves in an official opposition role.
"If I was Justin Trudeau, I would be feeling great this evening. If I was [federal NDP Leader] Tom Muclair, I'd be heading back to the drawing board," Wieder said.
Voter turnout for the four federal byelections was expected to be low, coming between a weekend and the Canada Day holiday. Some political observers accused the Harper Conservatives of choosing this date to hold byelections in order to engineer a low voter turnout.
Barry Kay, a political science professor with Wilfrid Laurier University, said turnout in byelections is typically 10 to 15 points lower than the turnout in a general election. He said that governing parties tend to suffer more losses in byelections as voters use the occasion to show their dismay at the polls without having to worry about changing the seat of power.
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