The New Democrats squeaked to victory against a star Liberal candidate in Toronto-Danforth last night, in one of three provincial by-elections that left the governing Liberals without a bolstered majority in the Ontario Legislature.
NDP candidate Peter Tabuns, a former Toronto councillor and an environmental activist, defeated his main Liberal rival, former television journalist Ben Chin, by slightly more than 2,000 votes. The riding has been a NDP bastion since 1963.
The race in Whitby-Ajax, east of Toronto, was even tighter. Progressive Conservative candidate Christine Elliott, a lawyer, defeated Liberal candidate Judi Longfield by about 1,300 votes.
Flanked by NDP heavyweights, including provincial Leader Howard Hampton and federal Leader Jack Layton last night, Mr. Tabuns talked about why the NDP won.
"People made it very clear they liked the work the NDP has done in this riding and they don't like what Dalton McGuinty is doing to this province and this city," said Mr. Tabuns to a cheering crowd at a Danforth Avenue pub.
In Ottawa, the night went smoothly for Tory Lisa MacLeod, who cruised to victory in the riding of Nepean-Carleton.
Ms. MacLeod had at least 7,800 votes more than her closest rival, Liberal Brian Ford, a former Ottawa police chief.
Last night, Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory said the results amount to an indictment of the McGuinty government.
"I'm delighted that voters in all three ridings have sent a message to Mr. McGuinty saying, 'enough of the broken promises, enough of the failure to produce results, enough of the tax-and-spend government,' " he said.
The three provincial spots were up for grabs to fill seats vacated by members who made the jump to federal politics.
Nepean-Carleton had been represented by John Baird, now Treasury Board President, and had been expected to remain firmly in Tory hands.
The former MPPs of Whitby-Ajax and Nepean-Carleton, both Tory strongholds, are now part of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet in Ottawa.
Marilyn Churley, an enormously popular MPP who represented Toronto-Danforth for 15 years, pursued an ultimately unsuccessful bid for a federal seat in January.
The riding is held federally by Mr. Layton.
In Whitby-Ajax, the Tories were nervous earlier yesterday about their prospects for hanging on to the seat.
The Tories started the race on March 1 eight points ahead of the Liberals in the riding. While the party has done its utmost to turn all three by-elections into referendums on the McGuinty government, it faced a particularly tough fight in Whitby-Ajax.
Even though the Tories have held the riding since 1995, Ms. Longfield, who is well-known in the region, proved to be a formidable opponent. The 60-year-old former gold miner from Timmins and retired teacher was the federal Liberal MP from 1997, but lost her seat in January to Jim Flaherty, who is now federal Finance Minister. Ms. Elliott, 50, is the wife of Mr. Flaherty.
Despite the by-election results, the Liberals maintain a solid majority, with 71 of the 103 seats in the legislature. The Tories now hold 24 seats, and the NDP have eight.
The Progressive Conservatives started the by-election race in Whitby-Ajax eight points behind the Liberals in the riding. Incorrect information was published yesterday.