TORONTO - Opposition parties in Ontario are urging voters in Burlington, Markham and York South-Weston to send the Liberals a message when they go to the polls for byelections in February.

The Liberal government called the byelections Wednesday after coming under fire for leaving the seats vacant for months.

The three seats were vacated late last year when Liberal cabinet minister Joe Cordiano left politics and Conservative Cam Jackson and Liberal Tony Wong resigned to run for city council in Burlington and Markham.

Although most parties have nominated their candidates in the three southern Ontario ridings and have been unofficially campaigning for a while, they now have until Feb. 8 to win over voters.

Greg Sorbara, finance minister and Liberal party campaign chair, said he expects the Liberal caucus will have several new members after Feb. 8.

"These byelections offer voters the opportunity to elect strong Liberal candidates who will build on our government's progress and be in a position to move forward on local issues," Sorbara said in a statement.

Opposition parties, who have long called for the byelections, said voters now have a chance to send the governing Liberals a clear message before the general election in October.

"Voters are looking for an opportunity to send a message to (Premier Dalton) McGuinty about the broken promises, about failure to deliver results on taxes, gridlock and health care,'' said Conservative Leader John Tory, on a break from campaigning in Burlington.

People haven't forgotten about the health-care premium the Liberals brought in shortly after they were elected on a platform that promised no tax increases, Tory said.

While Burlington was held by the party, Tory admitted the other two ridings will be an "uphill climb.''

"We're just going to take it one day at a time,'' he said.

New Democrat Peter Kormos said he expects the recent 25-per-cent pay hike both the Liberals and Conservatives voted themselves before Christmas will be a key election issue. While politicians voted themselves a pay increase, Kormos said working people are struggling on minimum wage.

"Here's an opportunity for Ontarians in those three ridings to let the Liberals know voters are tired of a government that takes them for granted, of a Liberal government that treats them with disdain and with a premier who looks after his own interests and ignores the needs of so many people in the province,'' Kormos said.

Other interest groups are also vowing to use the byelections to press for change. The Coalition After Property Tax Reform said it will lobby for a 5 per cent cap on annual property assessment increases and major reforms to the property tax system in Ontario.

The Liberals have nominated city council veteran Joan Lougheed in Burlington, local businessman Michael Chan in Markham and Omni TV news anchor Laura Albanese in York South-Weston.

Former Halton regional chair Joyce Savoline is running for the Conservatives in Burlington while businessman Alex Yuan carries the banner in Markham and real estate lawyer Pina Martino is running for the Conservatives in York South-Weston.

The New Democrats are still nominating candidates in all three ridings.