Toronto Centre and Willowdale holding byelections today

Liberal candidates in Toronto’s two federal byelections are counting on Prime Minister Stephen Harper — and a sense his Conservatives have abandoned the city — to help them win votes today.



"It’s what people are telling us at the door," said candidate Bob Rae during a final weekend push in Toronto Centre. "Voters say the Conservatives don’t care about them. They don’t care about Toronto or the province of Ontario."



Across Canada, two other ridings vote today in byelections in Vancouver Quadra and Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River in northern Saskatchewan. While both seats were held by Liberal MPs, party insiders predict closer races in the west than in Toronto Centre or Willowdale, with a possible squeaker in Saskatchewan.

The alienation theme is repeated on doorsteps in Willowdale, according to Liberal candidate Martha Hall Findlay. She says voters have been paying attention to such comments by federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty that Ontario is "the last place" business wants to invest.

Rae and Hall Findlay are running in ridings opened up with the retirement of incumbents Bill Graham in Toronto Centre and Jim Peterson in Willowdale. Both are considered safe Liberal seats, where attitudes toward Harper may be a factor, but not the sole reason if Liberals retain the seats.

Conservative candidates refute the view Harper is a secret weapon for the Liberals. In Willowdale, Maureen Harquail, Flaherty’s cousin, told the Toronto Star she agrees with the finance minister’s view that corporate taxes are too high and must be lowered in order to promote investment.

And in Toronto Centre on the weekend, Don Meredith was door-knocking down to the wire. A pastor who is respected for his activism on youth and anti-drug issues, Meredith took over last December from original candidate Mark Warner, ousted by the party for his "Red Tory" views on social issues.

"It was before my time," Meredith said of Warner’s departure. "But it has absolutely not been an issue. I’ve been embraced by the party and the people in the riding."

NDP candidate El-Farouk Khaki has pushed for a gun ban in cities. He agrees Toronto Centre has increasing crime issues, particularly in downtown areas where shootings, swarmings and drug sales are seen to be more prevalent than in areas like Rosedale.

front bench posts?

  • Rae and Hall Findlay challenged winner Stéphane Dion for the leadership in 2006. Rae is already the party’s foreign affairs critic and it’s expected wins today would put both on Dion’s front benches.