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Prime Minister Stephen Harper is due to headline a pair of functions in Jim Flaherty’s former riding, Whitby-Oshawa, days before an expected by-election call.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is due to headline a pair of functions in Jim Flaherty's former riding days before an expected by-election call.

Mr. Harper has events scheduled in the Ontario communities of Whitby and Oshawa on Thursday, 16 days before the deadline for him to call a by-election in the vacant riding of Whitby-Oshawa, formerly held by Mr. Flaherty. A by-election call is expected as soon as this weekend, sources said Wednesday, but a spokesman for Mr. Harper declined to comment.

The Prime Minister is scheduled to make an announcement at Whitby's Abilities Centre Thursday afternoon, joined by his wife and two MPs. The Abilities Centre was a facility strongly supported by Mr. Flaherty, who passed away earlier this year. Mr. Harper will then hold a party event in Oshawa that evening.

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Mr. Harper doesn't often campaign during or before by-elections. The last such cases were Durham and Calgary Centre in 2012, and Vaughan in 2010, a Conservative source said. The Conservatives won Vaughan from the Liberals and only narrowly held Calgary Centre, avoiding a potential embarrassment in a riding that borders Mr. Harper's. Mr. Harper didn't campaign in June's four by-elections.

The trip to Whitby-Oshawa, which Mr. Flaherty snagged from the Liberals in 2006, suggests "there must be some degree of concern there" on the part of the Conservatives, one opposition source said.

Mr. Harper also passed up an earlier opportunity to call a by-election in the riding – he called four on May 11 but left Whitby-Oshawa vacant, a move that had the effect of buying time for all parties to prepare there. The Conservatives are trailing the Liberals in national polls. However, opposition sources said Wednesday the Conservatives likely have the inside track in the riding. "Obviously this is the Conservatives' riding to lose," another source said.

The Prime Minister is also expected to call a by-election in an Alberta riding, Yellowhead, vacated last month by former Conservative MP Rob Merrifield, who left to take a job as Alberta's envoy to Washington. The riding is expected to easily remain Conservative.

Whitby Mayor Pat Perkins is nominated as the Conservative candidate in Whitby-Oshawa, after a campaign in which her opponent complained publicly about the fast-track timing of the nomination race. Conservative Spokesman Cory Hann played down the complaints by saying: "At the end of the day, Pat Perkins had the overwhelming support of the membership in the nomination contest and was chosen as our candidate." The NDP candidate is Trish McAuliffe, who finished second to Mr. Flaherty in the 2011 election. The Liberal candidate is Celina Caesar-Chavannes.

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