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Tories keep two seats in byelections that offer up a real nailbiter

Nov 27 2012
Conservative Bev Oda's seat in Durham riding was to be decided Monday night. 

Conservative Bev Oda's seat in Durham riding was to be decided Monday night.

OTTAWA — The Conservatives held on to two seats late Monday in federal byelections — barely avoiding an embarrassing defeat in the Tory heartland of Calgary and easily retaining another seat in the riding of Durham — while the NDP escaped with a close win in Victoria.

In a night full of drama and strong showings by the Greens — especially in the West — no seats changed hands, as voters in B.C., Alberta and Ontario went to the polls in three federal byelections with significant political ramifications.

As the Tories may have quietly been thanking Liberal MPs Justin Trudeau and David McGuinty for their nail-biter victory in Calgary, the NDP barely retained its seat in Victoria after holding off a charging Green party that was looking for an important second MP in the House of Commons.

The Conservatives (with around 37 per cent of the vote) hung on over the Liberals (about 33 per cent) in the riding of Calgary Centre, with the Greens (26 per cent) also putting up a strong fight.

The Tories easily retained their seat in the Ontario riding of Durham, while the NDP was in a battle all night to hold onto its seat in a byelection in Victoria, facing a strong challenge from the Green party. With most polls reporting, the NDP was leading the Greens by slightly more than 1,000 votes.

“For the Green Party of Canada, these byelections mark a new stage. Tonight’s results demonstrate people trust us in numbers greater than ever,” Green party Leader Elizabeth May said in a statement.

Voter turnout was only 29.4 per cent in Calgary Centre, 35.8 per cent in Durham and slightly more than 40 per cent in Victoria.

The Liberals, who last won a seat in Calgary in 1968 when Trudeaumania swept across Canada, threatened the Conservatives all evening in the race in Calgary Centre.

Indeed, the byelections posed serious challenges and opportunities for the four main political parties: the Conservatives, New Democrats, Liberals and Greens.

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were looking to avoid an embarrassing upset in the Tory bedrock of Calgary and once more flex their newfound muscle in the Greater Toronto Area.

Tom Mulcair and his NDP were out to show they haven’t ceded any popularity or electoral ground to the Liberals or Greens since Jack Layton’s death last year, while a rebuilding Liberal party was hoping leadership candidate Justin Trudeau’s star power would boost their fortunes.

And for the Green party, it was an enormous opportunity to gain a valuable second seat in the House of Commons next to leader May and further present itself as a competitive alternative.

The Conservative party was expected to hold on to both seats that had been vacated by Tory MPs in Calgary Centre and Durham, although government officials had quietly said the race in the Conservative stronghold of Calgary was closer than they initially expected.

Heading into voting day, the Conservatives held 163 seats in the 308-seat House of Commons, with the official Opposition NDP at 100, Liberals with 35, Bloc Quebecois at 4, and Green party with one seat, along with two independent MPs and the three vacancies that prompted the byelections.

Calgary Centre, a riding that includes the city’s downtown as well as a number of affluent neighbourhoods, has been a conservative stronghold for more than four decades.

When the campaign began, it was expected Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt, a longtime journalist, would sail to an easy victory. Former Tory MP Lee Richardson won the riding in the 2011 election by nearly 20,000 votes, capturing about 58 per cent of ballots cast.

However, the riding includes a lot of the same voters who were key to electing popular centrist Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who proved a thorn in Crockatt’s side during the campaign. The mayor repeatedly criticized Crockatt for not attending all-candidates’ debates.

But a series of recent and past verbal gaffes by two federal Liberals proved troublesome for Grit byelection candidate Harvey Locke.

Ottawa Liberal MP McGuinty called Alberta Tory MPs shills for the oil industry, saying they should take a more national view of the energy sector or go back to their home province. Moreover, a 2010 video resurfaced of Liberal leadership front-runner Trudeau suggesting that Quebec politicians were superior to those in Alberta.

Both interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae and Trudeau flew to the riding during the campaign to support Locke, while Green party leader May stumped for candidate Chris Turner. Mulcair also was in Calgary to campaign with NDP candidate Dan Meades.

Although he didn’t want to blame anyone else for the loss, Locke said the comments made by McGuinty and Trudeau might have hurt his campaign — particularly those from McGuinty last week.

“The two years ago stuff was out of context,” Locke said late Monday, referring to Trudeau’s comments.

In Victoria, the race was between the New Democrats and Greens.

The Vancouver Island riding, easily won by the NDP in the 2011 election, is adjacent to May’s riding in Saanich-Gulf Islands. The NDP’s Murray Rankin and the Green party’s Donald Galloway were in a fierce battle for the seat.

In Durham, an Ontario riding that had been held by former Tory MP Bev Oda since 2004, Conservative candidate and lawyer Erin O’Toole captured an easy victory with about 51 per cent of the vote. O’Toole is the son of John O’Toole, the local Progressive Conservative member of provincial parliament.

Harper called the byelections in late October in Victoria, Calgary Centre and Durham after three members of Parliament, including two Tories, resigned their seats for different reasons.

Conservative MP Richardson left his Calgary Centre seat in May to work for Alberta Premier Alison Redford; New Democrat MP Denise Savoie resigned her Victoria seat in August for health reasons; and Oda — the former Conservative cabinet minister who made headlines for a series of spending gaffes — announced in July she was retiring as Tory MP for Durham.

Byelections are often viewed as an opportunity for grumpy voters to send the incumbent party and government a message over how they’re managing the country.

“You can send a statement that’s not going to change the complexion of the government,” said Duane Bratt, chair of the policy studies department at Calgary’s Mount Royal University.

With files from Natalie Stechyson, Postmedia News, and the Calgary Herald



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