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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff speaks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on Nov. 30, 2010.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Thrilled with taking out a safe Liberal seat, Stephen Harper's Conservatives are ripping in to Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and boldly predicting more wins in Ontario and the coveted Toronto area.

"This is a time of reckoning for Mr. Ignatieff," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on Tuesday after former top cop Julian Fantino's by-election victory in Vaughan.

Mr. Kenney noted the Liberal Leader had campaigned in the suburban riding and put his "personal credibility on the line." He added: "Michael Ignatieff suffered a terrible loss last night and it may in part be because his party is concerned about everything except the economy."

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Tory officials are boisterous since the seat had been held by the Liberals for 22 years. "It was a very steep hill to climb," party spokesman Fred DeLorey said, "and we hope to see further growth in the Toronto region based on this breakthrough."

Mr. Fantino, the former Toronto police chief and Ontario Provincial Police commissioner, defeated grassroots Liberal candidate Tony Genco - but not by as wide a margin as expected.

As a result, Mr. Ignatieff met with reporters Tuesday and boldly predicted his party would win the seat back in the next election, noting that it's a two-way race.

"I respect how all Canadians cast their votes," Mr. Ignatieff said. "When you look at what happened in Winnipeg North and elsewhere ... the NDP vote is not even factor in Vaughan and it basically collapses in Winnipeg North.

"And we think that as you reflect on those results you think ... there are two choices at the next election. There is a Liberal choice and there's a Conservative choice."

The Liberal Leader also mocked those who suggested Mr. Fantino would have an easy ride right into the House of Commons. "The word waltz I would have a question," Mr. Ignatieff said. "He had to fight hand over hand over hand. He thought it was going to be a waltz; it was a dogfight. Everybody draws lessons from this."

But political observers aren't dismissing the Tory win in the GTA as an aberration. EKOS pollster Frank Graves described it as "perhaps a harbinger of just how tight and crucial Ontario will be."

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Still, Mr. Graves suggested Mr. Ignatieff will be emboldened by the results - his Liberals came close in Vaughan and won the by-election in Winnipeg North, a traditional NDP seat.

"The impacts of this are hard to read but probably good enough for Michael Ignatieff to keep spring election a live option," Mr. Graves said, adding: "The NDP won't be happy."

Indeed, the New Democrats are calling their loss in Winnipeg a "Kevin Lamoureux win."

The Liberal candidate "is an 18-year political veteran," NDP spokesman Karl Belanger told the Globe. " He's won five election campaigns. In his professional political career, he has represented almost the whole riding at one point or another. "

Mr. Belanger noted that their candidate, Kevin Chief, was a rookie, never having run for political office before.

He also said they had a strong showing in the other Manitoba riding, Dauphin-Swan Lake-Marquette, which was held by the Tories.

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"This was a message to Stephen Harper: start listening to rural Canada. Issues like the Wheat Board were front and centre in this campaign, which saw the NDP's Denise Harder finish a strong second," Mr. Belanger said. "Stephen Harper can no longer take rural Canada for granted."

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Update The Liberals scoff at the Tory gloating, noting the Conservative margin of victory in Vaughan was 2.5 per cent while the Grits won Winnipeg North by 5.1 per cent.



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