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Canada's Byelection Battles Shaping Up To Be Closer Than Expected

Voters in three ridings in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario will be going to the polls on Monday in what were supposed to be three easy byelection wins for the incumbent parties. Though two of the contests are expected to go the same way they did in May 2011, the vote in Calgary Centre will be the one to watch.

The result in Durham looks to be the least uncertain. The riding is solidly Conservative at both the provincial and federal level and voters re-elected Oda three times after her first win in 2004. The Liberals held the riding throughout the Jean Chrétien years, but in 1993, 1997 and 2000 the combined votes for the Reform/Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative candidates easily outnumbered those for the Liberals.

A poll by Forum Research on Nov. 12 showed Conservative candidate Erin O'Toole ahead with 46 per cent support compared to 26 per cent for the NDP's Larry O'Connor. It seems unlikely there will be any surprises in Durham on Monday.

That might not be the case in Victoria. Though New Democrat Murray Rankin looks very likely to keep the riding for the party (He had 47 per cent support in the latest Forum latest poll), the question mark is the performance of the Greens.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May's riding is next door and the party has been campaigning hard against the controversial Kinder Morgan pipeline. Their candidate, Donald Galloway, scored 26 per cent in Forum's poll, easily putting him in second place. Though an upset is unlikely, a strong performance for the Greens would give them a better chance of doubling their seat total to two in 2015.

They might also get a good result in Calgary Centre. What was supposed to be the least competitive race is turning into a close contest. The riding has voted for conservative candidates since it was created almost 50 years ago, but Tory candidate Joan Crockatt has had a rough campaign so far.

Crockatt voiced her support for Wildrose in the recent provincial campaign, and her candidacy for the Conservatives has highlighted the growing fissure between the federal Tories and provincial PCs. She has missed most of the all-candidates' forums, including one organized by Mayor Naheed Nenshi. And two Forum polls conducted in the last week have shed some light on the consequences.

In the first poll, Crockatt was up on Liberal Harvey Locke by two points (32 to 30 per cent) while the second (conducted on Saturday) put her up by five (35 to 30 per cent). The margin of error was large enough to make her lead statistically insignificant, but she may benefit from a split between the Liberals and the strong campaign by Green candidate Chris Turner. He managed 23 per cent in the first poll and 25 per cent in the second. However, it is not clear how interchangeable Liberal and Green support really is -- those Tories who do not want to vote for Crockatt might find it easier to swallow voting for Turner than for a Liberal.

Nevertheless, it appears the three incumbent parties have the inside track. But the reverberations of strong performances by the Liberals in Calgary Centre and the Greens in both western ridings, even if the incumbent parties are re-elected, will be felt in Ottawa.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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