Conservatives bit their nails while by-election results in the traditionally safe seat of Calgary Centre rolled in on Monday night and New Democrats were on tenterhooks in Victoria as they faced the possibility of losing a party stronghold to the Greens.
Conservative candidate Erin O'Toole strolled to an easy victory in the riding of Durham, northeast of Toronto – one of three federal by-elections held on Monday. Mr. O'Toole, a Bay Street lawyer and military veteran, claimed just over half of all the votes in his riding.
But in Calgary Centre and Victoria, the final results were far from certain even hours after the polls had closed.
In Calgary, Tory candidate Joan Crockatt defeated Liberal Harvey Locke. But Conservative strategists cannot be comforted by such a tight battle in what is usually not much of a contest. Although Calgary Centre is more left-leaning than adjacent ridings, Tory MP Lee Richardson won it with more than 57 per cent of the vote in 2011, and the city is the locus of the movement that brought Prime Minister Stephen Harper to power.
Meanwhile, after trading leads throughout the evening, the NDP's Murray Rankin won Victoria over Green Party candidate Donald Galloway. New Democrats milled around a pricey hotel ballroom, expressing surprise at the tighter-than-expected race.
"We never took this riding for granted," NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said.
Mr. Rankin began the campaign with confidence. The NDP held the riding for the past two elections and commanded a healthy lead in 2011. But that was when Jack Layton was party leader. An NDP loss in this riding would raise questions about how well his successor, Mr. Mulcair, is being received by Canadian voters.
And in both Calgary and Victoria, the strength of the Greens suggests that the centre-left of the Canadian political spectrum is even more fractured than it was during the 2011 election. The strong showing by Mr. Galloway and by Chris Turner in Calgary can likely be attributed to positive reviews received by Green Leader Elizabeth May for her performance as the party's only member of Parliament.
But it could also make it easier for the Conservatives to walk up the middle in future elections when there is a three-way split between the Liberals, the NDP and the Greens.
In Calgary Centre, Ms. Crockatt, a television pundit and former editor with the Calgary Herald, spent Monday door-knocking and did not make herself available to the media. She was heavily criticized – even by Calgary's popular mayor, Naheed Nenshi – for skipping many public debates and staying out of the media spotlight during the by-election campaign.
Attempts were made early on to field a single left-leaning candidate, but when all proposals fizzled, concerns were raised that the Liberal, Green and NDP candidates would split the progressive vote, giving Ms. Crockatt a clear path to Parliament.
Mr. Turner, the author and Green Party candidate, who hovered around 25 per cent of the popular vote in Calgary Centre all night, said despite the electoral loss, the campaign was a success in some respects. "We changed this city, the way it looks at federal government and the way the rest of the country looks at Calgary's politics," he said. "We were defeated at the polls, but we did not lose anything today."
In Victoria, Mr. Rankin, who spoke to reporters after casting his ballot, said he was hopeful that voters would stick with the NDP for the third time in a row. The New Democrats could not afford to see Victoria slip away because of what it would say about Mr. Mulcair's leadership.
The race in Durham was called after Bev Oda, the former minister of international development, resigned her seat when she was punted from cabinet for spending $16 of taxpayers' money on a glass of orange juice and other perceived extravagances that did not wash with the Tory government.
Mr. O'Toole was well ahead of his closest rival, NDP candidate Larry O'Connor. Liberal candidate Grant Humes, who posted controversial signs that took shots at the Conservatives for their handling of veterans affairs, was third.