By-elections will be held at the end of June in four out of five vacant federal ridings but Prime Minister Stephen Harper has decided it is too soon to fill the seat left open as a result of the death of Jim Flaherty.
In a statement released Sunday morning, the Conservative government said votes would be held on June 30 in the Toronto ridings of Trinity-Spadina and Scarborough-Agincourt, and in the Alberta ridings of Fort McMurray-Athabasca and Macleod.
Three out of the four races will be fiercely contested and one of them – the fight for Trinity-Spadina in downtown Toronto – could be a nail-biter that weighs the popularity of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
Mr. Harper opted not to call a vote in Whitby-Oshawa that was held by Mr. Flaherty, the former finance minister who died from a heart attack on April 10. Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for the Prime Minister, said in an e-mail Sunday: "Everyone, in all parties, was caught off guard by Minister Flaherty's sudden death. We expect that by-election will be called in the coming months."
Of the four by-elections that Mr. Harper called, the race in Macleod, left vacant last fall with the resignation of Conservative MP Ted Menzies, would seem least likely to produce surprises. The Conservatives say their candidate, John Barlow, will win and other parties acknowledge that is likely the case in the heavily Tory riding.
Fort McMurray-Athabasca was vacated when Conservative MP Brian Jean, who took more than 70 per cent of the vote in 2011, stepped down in January. Conservative candidate David Yurdiga has a significant edge. But Liberal challenger Kyle Harrietha is running a good campaign and the New Democrats say their candidate, Lori McDaniel, is also strong.
Even if Mr. Yurdiga won by a slim margin, it would suggest the party is losing ground. And a Conservative source said the Tories are "not taking anything for granted."
The two Toronto races are expected to be tighter than those in Alberta.
A Conservative source said the Ontario ridings are Mr. Trudeau's to lose. "We're not even expecting to hit 10 per cent in either of them," he said.
But Scarborough-Agincourt, which was previously held by Liberal veteran Jim Karygiannis, is not a sure thing for the Mr. Trudeau's party. It has more immigrants than any other riding in the country and a candidate of any stripe who has the ability to win over ethnic voters could make gains.
Trinity-Spadina, which became vacant when New Democrat Olivia Chow resigned to run for mayor of Toronto, is expected to be fought tooth-and-nail by the Liberals and the New Democrats.
Adam Vaughan, a popular city councillor, has quit his municipal seat to run for the Liberals. Mr. Vaughan was hand-picked to run by Mr. Trudeau, has name recognition and at least one poll has suggested he could defeat NDP candidate Joe Cressy, a social activist and long-time party worker.
But the riding has been NDP since Ms. Chow won it in 2006. And the New Democrats have been campaigning hard for months and are well organized while the Liberals may be in disarray after a nasty internal spat over nominations that preceded Mr. Vaughan's interest in the seat.
Liberals have fared well in the polls for more than a year. The question is whether the popularity of the Liberal Leader and his candidate can defeat the NDP ground game.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who said Green candidates will be running in all ridings, said it's unfortunate that the Ontario by-elections overlap substantially with the provincial election. "The timing will not help voter turnout," said Ms. May.