Byelections: Trinity-Spadina faceoff fizzles as Liberals cruise to victory

The electoral turf war in Toronto's Trinity–Spadina riding was billed as a byelection battle for the ages. But when it finally came time to count the ballots in the riding vacated by former New Democrat MP-turned-mayoral candidate Olivia Chow, it wasn't even close, Kady O'Malley writes.

New Democrats may have lost more than just a seat in the Commons to Justin Trudeau

Liberal Adam Vaughan celebrates his by-election win in the Trinity-Spadina riding with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau at the Steam Whistle Brewery in Toronto on Monday night. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press)

The electoral turf war in Trinity–Spadina was billed as a byelection battle for the ages.

But when it finally came time to count the ballots in the riding vacated by former New Democrat MP turned mayoral candidate Olivia Chow, it wasn't even close.

After only two polls in, Toronto city councillor turned Liberal challenger Adam Vaughan took the lead over NDP heir apparent Joe Cressy, and never looked back.   

By the end of the night, Vaughan's share of the vote seemed to have settled at just over 50 per cent — nearly 20 percentage points ahead of Cressy — and when he finally took the stage at his victory celebrations, a visibly delighted Justin Trudeau was on hand to congratulate him.

There were still more euphoric Liberal faces in the crowd at his soon-to-be-caucus colleague Arnold Chan's victory party in Scarborough–Agincourt.

After all, Chan didn't just hang onto the seat that maverick former MP Jim Karygiannis held for decades.

He very nearly doubled Karygiannis' 2011 margin of victory, although given the downright moribund turnout across the board, it's likely unwise to draw any sweeping conclusions based on data-crunching comparisons alone.  

Closest race in Fort McMurray

Still, it seems noteworthy that the closest race turned out to be the fight for Fort McMurray–Athabasca, a riding traditionally viewed as near the heart of the Tory heartland, nestled deep in oilsands country.

In 2011, voters sent Conservative MP Brian Jean back to Ottawa with just over 70 per cent of the vote, with the New Democrat and Liberal candidates coming in a distant second and third, respectively, with 13 and 10 per cent, respectively.

This time around, Conservative standard-bearer David Yurdiga, won with just under 47 per cent of the vote. Hot — or, at least, warm — on his heels, however, was Liberal Kyle Harrietha, who wound up a not nearly so distant second at just under 36 per cent. The New Democrats, meanwhile, dropped to 11 per cent.

As was the case in Ontario, the lacklustre turnout makes it difficult to say for sure whether the unexpectedly feisty performance at the polls by the Liberals was a one-off anomaly, or a portent of campaigns to come. 

Meanwhile, any Conservatives rattled by a seeming resurgence of red in Alberta can find solace in the numbers from Macleod, where John Barlow cruised to victory with nearly 70 per cent support.

Even so, the Liberals can take heart in their 17 per cent showing, which is a 13 percentage point jump from 2011, when they pulled in less than 4 per cent of the total vote.

And at the very least, both the Conservatives and Liberals can comfort themselves with the fact that they aren't the New Democrats, for whom this latest batch of byelections can best be described as a series of unfortunate events.

Not only did they give up Trinity-Spadina, but they didn't even place second in any of the other three ridings up for grabs. (In Macleod, they came in fourth, behind the Greens.)

For a party that has billed itself as the only serious choice for opponents of the current government, it will be hard to spin those results as anything other than a disappointment — one that could very well demoralize the party even as it emboldens Team Trudeau.

By that reckoning, the New Democrats may have lost more than just a seat in the House of Commons on Monday night. They may have lost — albeit maybe only temporarily — their footing on the road to 2015. 

Mobile users, view a chart of byelection results since 2006 here.

About the Author

Kady O'Malley

Kady O'Malley covered Parliament Hill for CBC News until June, 2015.