There's a new Toronto test in the offing that will give us a pretty good measure of whether Justin Trudeau has beaten back the Orange Wave.
Now that Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis has resigned his Scarborough-Agincourt seat to run for Toronto's city council, there will be two Toronto by-elections that will test the strength and momentum of the NDP and the Liberals. The NDP's Olivia Chow has already stepped down in Trinity-Spadina to campaign for Toronto's mayoralty.
There are four federal ridings open now, but the Conservatives can still be confident they'll keep the two vacated by Alberta MPs. It's the two seats now open in Toronto that will provide revealing contests between the two opposition parties.
In both cases MPs who had a heavy personal hold on the riding have stepped aside, leaving interesting barometers of the two opposition parties – of whether the Liberals' rebound under Mr. Trudeau has really pushed back the gains the New Democrats made in the 2011 election.
Mr. Karygiannis was never a household name across the country, though he sat in the Commons since 1988. But Jimmy K, as he's known, was a power in Scarborough-Agincourt. He's an organizer who locked up support from the riding's patchwork of cultural communities by brazenly playing to their sentiments, needling governments about their gripes, travelling to hotspots like Sri Lanka to echo their concerns – and tirelessly asking for their backing. He won 64 per cent of the vote in 2011, when his party suffered collapse.
While he was MP, other parties didn't expect to win the riding. In 2011, the NDP didn't really try. They came third in Scarborough-Agincourt. But in neighbouring ridings, the New Democrats made a breakthrough in what was previously Liberal turf. They won two Scarborough seats, and made unprecedented inroads in support from large communities like Tamil-Canadians. Jack Layton ended his 2011 campaign with a big Scarborough rally.
Now that Mr. Karygiannis is leaving his fiefdom, the NDP should have a shot at Scarborough-Agincourt, too – if the strength the party showed in 2011 hasn't dissipated.
Further west, in Trinity-Spadina, it's the NDP that's losing an MP whose personal drawing power helped win the riding. When Ms. Chow stepped aside to run for mayor, it should have been an opening for the Liberals. Liberal Tony Ianno held the downtown ridings through four elections before Ms. Chow defeated him in 2006.
But the Liberals have had some messy infighting in Trinity-Spadina. The party disqualified potential candidate Christine Innes, Mr. Ianno's wife, in a squabble over redistricted ridings for the 2015 general election. The NDP, meanwhile, have lined up a strong candidate in Joe Cressy.
On a small scale, both of these Toronto races will say something about the strength of the parties. By-elections aren't usually bellwethers for a general election. But for the Liberals and NDP, they will be real measures in the country's biggest city, key to the hopes of both, and neither is predictable.
The Liberals have weakened since 2006, and crumbled in 2011. Their ground organization has been weak. These races will test whether the party can mount a strong ground campaign in ridings where they traditionally have a machine. And the Trudeau Liberals' claim that they have passed the NDP and now form the main threat to the Tories will be far less credible if they can't keep Scarborough-Agincourt by a comfortable margin and gain Trinity-Spadina.
Thomas Mulcair's NDP, meanwhile, will be desperate to show that the 2011 surge isn't just a memory. Winning Scarborough-Agincourt, even a strong second, would indicate that the inroads New Democrats made into traditional Liberal clienteles in 2011 were real, rather than a high-water mark of the past. Keeping Trinity-Spadina is key to sending a message that they are still serious contenders – and that they aren't being beaten back to third-party status.