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A secondary school gym serves as a federal election polling station in the St-Laurent--Cartierville district Monday, January 23, 2006 in Montreal. (David Boily/Canadian Press)

In Depth

The 39th Parliament

Four Liberal seats up for grabs on Monday

Last Updated March 17

In a political season marked by election dares and stare-downs, Monday's mini-set of four federal byelections promises to add another volatile ingredient to the mix.

Broadly speaking, the four ridings up for grabs on March 17 are the Liberals' and leader Stéphane Dion's to lose.

Three of the four are long-standing Liberal strongholds: Toronto's Willowdale, Toronto-Centre and Vancouver Quadra, which was once held by former Liberal prime minister John Turner.

The sprawling northern Saskatchewan riding of Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River was won by the Liberals in 2006 by fewer than 70 votes. But it is also a riding that Dion has invested heavily in as leader, bypassing the nomination process and one of his former supporters, David Orchard, to appoint a woman and former New Democrat, Joan Beatty, to carry the Liberal colours this time out.

Federal election law forbids the online reporting of any voting results until all the polls are closed in every riding across the country. Although local broadcasters in Ontario and Saskatchewan may announce their community's results while the B.C. byelection is still underway, it is illegal for web journalists to report those results because the information cannot effectively be censored from people who live somewhere that voting is still underway.

Political bounce?

The Liberals are hoping to get some political bounce from Monday's votes, perhaps enough to steel their nerve over defeating the Conservatives in Parliament later this spring.

Two former leadership candidates, ex-NDP premier Bob Rae and lawyer Martha Hall Findlay, are running in Toronto-Centre and Willowdale respectively. And they are expected to add some political heft to the party's front benches should they win.

If either is defeated on Monday, mind you, that would be seen as a sea change in voter intentions in Canada's biggest province and perhaps a huge victory for Stephen Harper.

At the very least, Dion is hoping to avoid a repeat of the three federal byelections last September when the Conservatives and NDP gained ground and the Liberals came up empty, particularly in their once-impregnable stronghold of Montreal's Outremont riding, lost to the NDP.

These four byelections on Monday have been largely waged under the radar, with most of the national media focusing on whether there will be a general election any time soon.

And regardless of who wins, the results will not change the balance of power in this minority parliament. But they could change public perceptions of which party is on a roll and which is not, or even which ones are showing some unexpected organizational muscle.

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