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NDP holds fast to Layton's old seat in Toronto-Danforth by-election

NDP's Craig Scott (centre) celebrates his victory in the Toronto-Danforth Federal By-Election with Olivia Chow (left) and Nycole Turmel in Toronto on Monday March 9, 2012. The seat was vacant after the death of former NDP Leader Jack Layton.

Chris Young for The Globe and Mail/chris young The Globe and Mail

It wasn't even close. The New Democrats won a federal by-election in the riding of Toronto-Danforth by a landslide Monday night, easily holding on to the seat left vacant by the death of former party leader Jack Layton.

With all the polls reporting, NDP candidate Craig Scott had close to 60 per cent of the vote in the left-leaning constituency just east of the city's downtown. Liberal candidate Grant Gordon finished a distant second at 28.5 per cent, and conceded the race. Voter turnout was 43.4 per cent.

Mr. Scott, who garnered more than 19,200 votes to Mr. Gordon's roughly 9,200, congratulated the other candidates when it became clear he was going to win but said the riding had spoken.

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"My friends, it looks like the Orange Crush is here to stay. It's not going anywhere," he said during the NDP victory party at The Opera House music venue.

The riding, he said, sent a "message to Ottawa that will be heard across the country" that the party will take on Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

He called the NDP "one of the strongest oppositions in Canadian history."

Interim New Democratic Leader Nycole Turmel was among the MPs at the victory party. "Jack is with us, he's proud of us, this is a great ending," she said on stage.

She thanked the supporters in the room for their help in the campaign. "Jack gave us a great legacy," she said.

Mr. Layton's widow, Trinity-Spadina MP Olivia Chow, led the crowd – which included Councillor Mike Layton, Jack's son – in cheers at the beginning of the event.

Polls conducted ahead of the by-election predicted a win for Mr. Scott, a low-key law professor and human-rights activist, over Mr. Gordon and nine other candidates. The riding has passed back and forth between the Liberals and New Democrats since it was created in 1979 and no one expected Conservative candidate Andrew Keyes to mount much of a challenge in this campaign. He didn't – Mr. Keyes finished a poor third with about five per cent of the vote.

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The NDP victory comes just five days before the party is set to elect someone to succeed Mr. Layton as leader of the party and the federal Official Opposition.

As well as competing against each other for Monday's by-election, the candidates in Toronto-Danforth faced the legacy of Mr. Layton. He was widely revered before he succumbed to cancer last August and won the riding with more than 60 per cent of the vote in the federal election last spring.

On Monday evening, the polls at Jackman Public School, just north of Broadview and Danforth Avenues, had a steady flow of voters.

Some of those turning up to vote said they preferred sticking with the NDP, while others said they were ready for change by voting Liberal. There was little acknowledgment of the Conservatives and only a few Tory signs appeared on nearby lawns. The campaign office for Mr. Keyes did not return calls on election day.

Dan Murphy, a graphic designer, said he'd be surprised if the riding didn't mostly vote NDP.

He said his decision to vote NDP was based on support for the party, as well as support for Mr. Scott. "If he wasn't qualified, I wouldn't vote for the party, just for that reason," he said.

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The riding's NDP allegiance is unlikely to change in the years ahead, he said, especially because of sympathy after Mr. Layton's death.

"I've been here for 13 years and I've probably voted that way every time I've had a chance," he said.

"I just think it's hard to change peoples' mentality around here, that's going back many years," he said, describing NDP support.

But Vicki Fowles, a retiree, said she thought it was time for change in the riding and, for her, that meant voting Liberal. One of the reasons she made the decision, she said, was to give the Grits a boost in the number of federal seats, she said.

The Liberals had much political capital invested in the campaign of Mr. Gordon, who heads a marketing firm that promotes ethical products and causes.

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae, who held the riding for the New Democrats when he was an MP in the late 1970s and early 1980s, was campaigning with Mr. Gordon on Monday.

Justin Trudeau has also helped Mr. Gordon canvass in the riding.

Having been reduced from 77 to 34 seats in the spring federal election, the Liberals were eager to demonstrate that they still have some life. And, for Mr. Rae in particular, a victory would have sent a message that his leadership could mark a turning point in party fortunes.

The riding was held by Liberal Dennis Mills for 16 years until Mr. Layton unseated him in 2004 by a margin of just over 2,300 votes.

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