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Special ballot officers count special ballots from national, international, Canadian Forces and incarcerated electors at Elections Canada's distribution centre in Ottawa on election night of the 44th Canadian general election, on Sept. 20.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

The final federal election result may be delayed until the weekend – or even longer – because thousands of mail-in ballots have still to be counted.

Twelve ridings did not start counting mail ballots until Friday, Elections Canada confirmed Thursday.

In two tight races in B.C. – in Nanaimo-Ladysmith and Richmond Centre – postal votes could clinch the final result.

Officials started counting mail ballots on Friday morning in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, a three-way battle between the NDP, Tories and Greens, according to Elections Canada. Votes tallied on election night from polling stations suggest the NDP have a narrow lead in the B.C. riding.

Elections Canada had expected counting to have finished by Friday. But the count in some ridings might continue into the weekend, before a final result can be announced.

Officials have to check and verify mail-in ballots before starting to count them, to ensure they have been signed and people have not voted twice.

In some ridings, including Victoria, more than 10,000 mail ballots had to be verified before the count could start. A record number of postal votes was received at this election, some from people who did not want to vote in person during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Elections Canada said in a statement that in more than 300 ridings counting has now finished.

COUNTED MAIL-IN BALLOTS

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have picked up one more seat in Quebec, pushing them slightly ahead of the Bloc Québécois in the province.

Brome-Missisquoi is the only riding so far to change hands since Monday’s preliminary election results, which did not include about 850,000 mail-in ballots.

Once election officials finished counting postal votes in the riding Thursday, Liberal Pascale St-Onge edged ahead of the Bloc’s Marilou Alarie by just 186 votes.

That leaves the Liberals leading or elected in 34 of Quebec’s 78 seats, to the Bloc’s 33 and also puts them slightly ahead in terms of the popular vote.

The Conservatives are leading or elected in 10 Quebec ridings and the NDP in just one.

Nationally, the Brome-Missisquoi victory puts the Liberals at 159 seats, although one of them was won by a disavowed Liberal candidate – Kevin Vuong in Toronto’s Spadina-Fort York – who will now have to sit as an Independent MP.

Late Thursday, Taleeb Noormohamed was declared the winner in Vancouver Granville by 436 votes over Anjali Appadurai of the NDP.

With the mail-in ballot count still continuing in three tightly-contested ridings Thursday evening, the Conservatives stood at 119 seats, the NDP at 25 and the Greens at two.

However, recounts are expected in a clutch of close-run ridings, where a handful of votes separates the victor from the loser.

In most ridings in Quebec, Ontario and Atlantic Canada, counting was complete by Thursday afternoon, as well as in the Yukon and Northwest Territories.

As the remaining results rolled in, election experts warned that, in a few photo-finish ridings, a recount will have to settle who ultimately sits in Parliament.

Experts say a recount is expected in the Winnipeg-area riding of Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley where Conservative Marty Morantz beat Liberal Doug Eyolfson by just 24 votes.

Elections Canada said on Thursday afternoon that counting had finished there and results were being verified.

A judicial recount would likely be triggered there because the margin is so small, experts said.

Quito Maggi, a pollster who runs public opinion firm Mainstreet Research, said voters should expect recounts in a number of ridings.

“The Charleswood seat is heading for a judicial recount. I suspect that at least two or three other (candidates) will ask to go to recount,” Maggi said.

“We noticed at this election that there were a larger number than expected close races. The turnout was way, way down too. At least 1.2 million fewer people voted in this election than the last election.”

An automatic judicial recount is triggered if there is a tie between the two leading candidates or if the difference in votes is fewer than one one-thousandth of the total votes cast.

In other tight races, the loser has the option to go to court to ask for the votes to be counted again. The NDP, Conservatives and Liberals did not say, when asked by The Canadian Press, whether they would demand recounts in ridings where they have come second by a tiny margin of votes.

Among the close-run results is in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., where less than one per cent of the vote separates the Liberals and the Conservatives. Liberal Terry Sheehan narrowly fought off Tory Sonny Spina by 247 votes after mail ballots were counted.

In the Davenport riding in Toronto, the Liberals’ Julie Dzerowicz won by fewer than 200 votes, after a close-fought challenge from the NDP.

The NDP snatched Edmonton Griesbach from the Tories, with a greater than expected margin, after a dynamic campaign by two-spirit Metis leader Blake Desjarlais.

Similarly, Liberal Patrick Weiler emerged Thursday from the mail-in count with a lead of almost 2,500 votes ahead of his Conservative rival in B.C.’s West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea-to-Sky Country.

Elections Canada expected more ridings to finish counting mail-in ballots Thursday night. But in some with thousands of postal votes – many of them in B.C. – counting will continue on Friday.

On Thursday evening, several B.C. ridings, including Nanaimo-Ladysmith, which is the site of a fierce battle between the NDP, Conservatives and Greens, were still counting.

In Victoria, elections officials were busy tallying up more than 12,600 ballots sent in by mail – the most in Canada.

Counting was also progressing in Saanich-Gulf Islands, where over 10,700 people have opted for postal votes and Elizabeth May, the former Green party leader, was on Thursday declared the winner.

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