Byelections in 4 vacant federal ridings set for March

The race is on in four vacant federal ridings as Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Friday that byelections will be held on March 17.

The election race is on in four vacant federal ridings as Prime Minister Stephen Harperannounced Friday that byelections will be held on March 17.

The ridings are:

  • Toronto Centre (Ontario).

  • Willowdale (Ontario).

  • Vancouver Quadra (British Columbia).

  • Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River (Saskatchewan).

However, if the Liberals defeat a confidence motion in the House of Commons, all Canadians will be heading to the polls before the fourbyelections are ever held.

The Toronto Centre riding was left vacant after Liberal MP Bill Graham stepped down from his post in June. Two days after Graham resigned, longtime MP Jim Peterson announced his retirement, leaving the Willowdale riding vacant.

Vancouver Quadra was leftwide open after Liberal MP Stephen Owen resigned in July.

Gary Merasty had held the seat of Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River for the Liberals since the January 2006 election. In July, he stepped down to pursue an opportunity in the private sector.

Toronto Centre, Willowdale Liberal strongholds

Two prominent Liberal leadership candidates are among those running in the Ontario ridings.Former NDP premier Bob Rae won the Liberal nomination in Toronto Centre in March.

Martha HallFindlay, a lawyer who finished lastof theeight candidates in the Liberal leadership race, was announced as a candidate in Willowdalein March.

Both of the Ontario ridings, historically,have been Liberal strongholds.

However, the riding ofDesnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River has traded hands between Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats.In the 2006 federal election,Merastyedged out Conservative incumbent Jeremy Harrison by less than 100 votes.

Vancouver Quadra has had both Conservatives and Liberals at the helm, but it has been Liberal territory since 1984.

Prime minister'stiming political strategy: Dion, Layton

Harper had until Dec. 30 to announce the date for these byelections.

NDP Leader Jack Layton said Harper's strategy of delaying the announcement is transparent.

"It looks like Mr. Harper is trying to be cute and stretch out the byelections until there may be a general election," he said. "But that's going to depend on whether Mr. Dion decides to stand up to the Harper government. He wouldn't do it in the fall."

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said the Prime Minister is putting his gamesmanship before the democratic interests of the population.

The Willowdale riding has been without an MP for six months, and will have to wait another three before constituents can vote.

Conservative MP James Moore doesn't dispute that the timing of the byelections may be related to a looming election.

"That certainly may have played into the dynamics of it," he said. "I mean, StéphaneDion has been very clear that he wants to bring down our government, after he's abstained for three months in the fall."

With files from the Canadian Press