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Votes in Toronto byelection counting very slowly, Liberals narrowly ahead of Tories

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Conservative candidate Don Stewart remained hopeful late Monday despite trailing his Liberal opponent in the Toronto-St. Paul's byelection where results were extremely slow to come in.

"Let's not give it up," he said, in a brief stop at his campaign party at a Jewish restaurant in the riding, around 11:30 p.m.

For most of the night he had trailed Church by between 400 and 500 votes, but when he spoke, still only one-third of the polls and less than 9,000 votes had finished their count.

And with more than 10,780 votes case in advance polls, the results are far too close for anyone to call.

But the story of the night thus far has been the snail's pace of vote counting, as a ballot that is nearly a metre long with 84 candidates on it is plaguing poll workers trying to get the results counted.

It took more than an hour after the polls closed at 8:30 p.m. for any results to be reported as poll workers had to unfold each ballot like a map before scanning 84 rows of names for the X.

A protest group calling themselves Longest Ballot Committee stacked the ballot with independent candidates to draw attention to the drawbacks of the first-past-the-post system.

Only eight of the candidates on the ballot represent a party, with the rest being independent, and most of those were put there by the protest group.

With one-third of the votes in 16 of the 84 still had zero votes, and 17 had only one vote.

Toronto — St. Paul's is an urban seat in the midtown of Canada's largest city that encompasses both some of the country's wealthiest streets and a higher-than-average number of renters.

It has been a safe Liberal riding for 30 years but issues including housing and the Israel-Hamas war are eating into Liberal support, as is a general malaise for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The riding is considered a must-win for the Liberals, with a loss expected to put pressure on Trudeau to step down ahead of the next election.

Church is a longtime Liberal staffer who worked as chief of staff for multiple ministers including most recently Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Don Stewart is a financial professional who has previously worked at a lobbying firm owned by Byrne.

The byelection was prompted by the resignation of former Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, who held the seat for more than 25 years and was recently appointed ambassador to Denmark.

Bennett won the seat in every election since 1997, usually with more than 50 per cent of the vote.

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