Conservatives win Toronto-St. Paul’s byelection in upset over Trudeau’s Liberals

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal party has lost a byelection in Toronto-St. Paul's. Glen McGregor discusses what kind of pressure the P.M. could be facing within his party after losing a long-held riding.

The Conservatives picked up a significant upset win against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in the federal byelection in Toronto-St. Paul’s riding.

Conservative candidate Don Stewart pulled off the stunning upset, with 100 per cent of polls reporting his victory (42.1 per cent of the vote) over Leslie Church, who received 40.5 per cent.

The results flipped just before 4 a.m. when Tories jumped into the lead with just three polls left to be counted.

Church, who served as chief of staff to Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, ran for the Liberals. Stewart, a financial and marketing specialist, ran for the Conservative Party of Canada. Amrit Parhar, a director with a non-profit, ran for the NDP.

Parhar garnered 4,044 votes, or 10.9 per cent. Green Party candidate Christian Cullis earned 1,059 votes, or 2.9 per cent, while People’s Party candidate Dennis Wilson received 234 votes (0.6 per cent).

Many have viewed this race as the latest test of Prime Minister Trudeau’s leadership, which will likely raise additional questions about his future now that the Liberals have lost what was a stronghold for the party.

Trudeau released a statement on Tuesday afternoon, thanking Church and congratulating Stewart.

“This was obviously not the result we wanted, but I want to be clear that I hear your concerns and frustrations,” the PM wrote.

“These are not easy times. And it is clear, I and my entire team, have much more hard work to do to deliver tangible, real progress that Canadians can see and feel.

“We will never stop working and fighting to make sure you have what you need to get through these tough times. My focus is on your success and that’s where it’s going to stay.”

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre called it a “shocking upset.”

“Congratulations to Common Sense Conservative candidate Don Stewart on a shocking upset in Toronto-St. Paul’s, where people voted to axe the tax, build the homes, fix the budget and stop the crime,” Poilievre wrote on X.

“Here is the verdict: Trudeau can’t go on like this. He must call a carbon tax election now.”

Tuesday’s byelection results mark the first time a Conservative MP has won in the riding of Toronto-St. Paul’s since 1988.

Elections Canada noted earlier that the unusual size of the ballot could slow down the counting process. Updated poll numbers are on the Elections Canada website.

Liberals lose Toronto riding for first time in years

Monday’s byelection was triggered by the resignation of Carolyn Bennett, a former cabinet minister and longtime Liberal Party of Canada representative, in January.

The seat was considered a must-win for Trudeau, and a loss is a massive blow that could be the final verdict before he steps down after 11 years as Liberal leader. The Liberals threw everything they had at the riding, with more than a dozen cabinet ministers knocking on doors for Church.

“The idea that the Liberals could lose a seat right in the heart of downtown completely shocked everyone,” said CityNews Parliament Hill reporter Glen McGregor. “I think it even shocked the Conservatives.”

The Conservatives hadn’t won a single seat in Toronto proper since 2011.

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow briefly touched on the surprise result on Tuesday.

“I think the message that people are trying to give in Toronto is that … no matter which party let’s come together and really support the city and make the city the best place it can be. So I haven’t looked in detail at the election results, but it was very, very close. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter which party, the City of Toronto needs to be good partners with the federal and provincial government,” Chow said.

Liberal Party candidate Leslie Church greets supporters as the count continues for the Toronto-St. Paul’s Federal Byelection, at an election night event in Toronto, on Monday, June 24, 2024.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young.

Early in the evening, longtime Conservative organizer and informal Poilievre adviser Jenni Byrne wrote off her party’s chances in an interview with the CBC. When Stewart visited his campaign office around 11:30 p.m., he tried to be upbeat but wasn’t quite succeeding, as the polls were not going his way.

“Let’s not give it up,” he said before reciting Poilievre’s alphabet soup slogan. “Axe the tax, build the homes, fix the budget, stop the crime,” he said, drawing big cheers. “Let’s bring it home!”

Church took to the stage at her campaign office an hour after Stewart and was more buoyant but not ready to celebrate.

“We are feeling great about the result,” Church said at her campaign party around 12:30 a.m. to the delight of her supporters, who chanted her name and shouted, “Call the race.”

But she did not.

“We’re not quite there yet,” she said.

What’s next for Trudeau and Liberals?

The Liberals’ crushing defeat is a blow to a party already struggling in the polls. McGregor says many saw this as a referendum on Prime Minister Trudeau’s leadership, and Tuesday’s byelection results could trigger some change.

“Until now, we hadn’t had Liberal MPs speaking out publicly calling for a change of leadership. I think that might start to change now,” said McGregor.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference in New York on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Toronto-St. Paul’s, in the city’s midtown area, includes some of Toronto’s wealthiest addresses, an above-average number of renters, and one of the largest concentrations of Jewish voters in the country.

“If there’s any place the Liberals would expect to have a guaranteed win, it would be in downtown Toronto. That’s key to their electoral success,” McGregor added.

Seven dozen people were on the almost metre-long ballot, which was stacked with names by a protest group calling itself the Longest Ballot Committee to protest the unfair first-past-the-post system. Similar protests were held in byelections in Winnipeg a year ago and Mississauga in 2022.

With files from The Canadian Press

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