TORONTO – The New Democrats easily hung on to the late Jack Layton’s riding Monday, with preliminary byelection results in Toronto-Danforth giving the NDP candidate close to 60 per cent of the vote.
The results were well in line with those suggested by polls and observers, who cited Layton’s personal popularity and the riding’s deep NDP roots.
NDP candidate Craig Scott, a law professor, human rights lawyer and neophyte politician, emerged on top with the kind of voting numbers Layton enjoyed.
In his victory speech, Scott said voters had rejected the politics of division.
“They said ‘yes’ to a party that is ready to take on Stephen Harper’s Conservatives right now,” Scott said.
The win, he said, was just one step toward the goal of unseating Harper in the next election in 2015.
Layton’s widow, MP Olivia Chow, was ecstatic at the result.
“It means the NDP ‘orange wave’ is continuing and the people in Toronto-Danforth are proud to have a member of Parliament to stand up to Stephen Harper and get their voice heard,” Chow said in an interview.
“I am sure Jack would have been proud of Craig Scott as a member of Parliament.”
The Liberal candidate, ad executive Grant Gordon, came in a distant second with about 29 per cent of the votes cast.
The Conservatives’ Andrew Keyes, who kept a low profile during the byelection campaign, garnered around five per cent of the vote, about the same level as the Greens.
“I wish you all the best of luck in Ottawa,” Gordon said in his concession speech. “Alas, you poor bugger, you do have to go to Ottawa.”
It was not immediately clear how many of the 75,000 eligible voters actually cast ballots.
While the win boosts the NDP standing in the Commons to 102 seats, observers said the results would have little impact on the wider political scene.
The Conservatives remain in the majority with 165 seats, the Liberals have 35, the Bloc Quebecois four seats, the Green Party one, and there’s one independent.
Toronto-Danforth, just to the east of the city’s downtown area, is a diverse riding, with large Greek, Chinese and other ethnic communities.
Layton, who died last August, claimed the riding from the Liberals in 2004 in a close race, but his popularity increased in the following years, and he won by huge margins.
Observers said Layton’s personal popularity along with the riding’s roots helped keep the riding firmly in NDP hands.
Chow said no one can fill the shoes of another, but she called Scott a “principled and smart” man who “shared the same values” and would stay true to Layton’s vision.
Gordon, whose campaign began late, had the help of Liberal heavyweight, interim party leader Bob Rae who once held the riding as a New Democrat, and MP Justin Trudeau, but their presence had little impact.
“We all knew from the outset that there were going to be profound feelings of loyalty to Mr. Layton,” Rae said.
“We congratulate the New Democratic Party for their victory.”
On the weekend, the NDP holds a convention to choose a national leader to replace Layton.
All the leadership candidates were on hand for Scott’s win at a hall in the riding.
Outgoing interim NDP leader Nicole Turmel said Layton had stood up for families in Toronto-Danforth.
“Starting tonight, Craig will pick up where Jack left off,” Turmel said.
“Craig has spent his life fighting for people and will serve Toronto-Danforth with passion and dedication.”