The Ontario NDP credits their campaign for a $10 minimum wage for propelling them to victory in one of three provincial byelections considered to be key indicators of voters' attitudes a mere eight months before a general election.
New Democrat candidate Paul Ferreira captured Toronto's York South-Weston riding Thursday evening. The party's campaign strategy was to tap into voter anger over a 25 per cent pay raise members of the legislature gave themselves before Christmas.
"This result shows that voters here are sending a very, very clear message," Ferreira said. "They want their politicians to focus on what's important to working families."
Ferreira's new riding is one of the poorest in the province. The NDP used the politicians' pay raise as a springboard for their own efforts to raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour. Both issues struck a chord with voters, the party said.
During the campaign the issues seemed to put pressure on Liberal candidate Laura Albanese who was defending the seat for her party. Albanese tried to capitalize on some of the sentiment being expressed by issuing a flyer on the minimum wage issue. But the effort did not capture voter attention for the Liberals.
But the governing party did manage to hang on to the suburban Toronto riding of Markham. Candidate Michael Chan took nearly 48 per cent of the vote compared with 35 per cent for Conservative Alex Yuan.
The Opposition Conservatives held onto Burlington, a stronghold riding which has elected Conservatives for decades. Candidate Joyce Savoline won with about 48 per cent voter support, having campaigned on hospital funding and traffic gridlock issues.
Despite traditionally strong Conservative support in the riding, the byelection was considered a major test for new party leader John Tory. In the 2003 election campaign the party won the seat by less than 1,000 ballots.
Green Party of Ontario Leader Frank De Jong was a distant fourth in Burlington with only three per cent of the vote.
The results of the byelections would not have changed the Liberal government's majority status even if they ended up losing all three ridings.
Some observers say the outcome gives the NDP some strong momentum heading into the Oct. 10 general election.
But Premier Dalton McGuinty said that losing a Toronto riding does not mean will be vulnerable in October.
Speaking in Niagara Falls on Friday, McGuinty said the NDP poured all their resources into winning York South-Weston. He added that New Democrats do not enjoy broad-based support across Ontario, unlike the Liberals.
However, his party will examine the messages sent by voters during the party's weekend convention in Niagara Falls.
Conservative Tim Hudak painted a different picture of the byelection results. He said the Liberals have been rejected by voters and the party is panicking about sliding support heading into the general election.
With files from The Canadian Press