11/08/2013 12:45 EST | Updated 11/08/2013 12:46 EST

Federal Byelections 2013: Liberals May Pick Up Seat In Tory Fortress, Polls Suggest


New polls suggest Liberals are well-placed to keep their two seats in four federal byelections on November 25 — and maybe even pick up a third.

The surveys, conducted by Forum Research on Nov. 6 via interactive voice response telephone polling, found Liberals leading in the two ridings vacated by their former MPs Bob Rae (Toronto Centre) and Denis Coderre (Bourassa). The polls also show Conservatives leading comfortably in Vic Toews' former Manitoba riding of Provencher.

But most surprisingly, the polls indicate Liberals are ahead in the riding of Brandon-Souris, a long-held Tory fortress.

Liberals took just five per cent of the vote in the Manitoba riding in the 2011 election, but this survey has their candidate, Rolf Dinsdale, ahead with 40 per cent to Larry Maguire's 35 per cent. This follows similar results from a Forum survey in mid-October, suggesting those first, surprising numbers were no fluke.

Could the Liberals actually pick up a rural, western riding?

The circumstances of the campaign have been peculiar, with the fallout from unusual events surrounding the Conservative nomination contest apparently having a real effect on the vote.

Dinsdale also comes from a long line of political heavyweights in the riding, as his father was a Progressive Conservative MP and his grandfather a mayor of Brandon. Nevertheless, that Dinsdale has consistently held a lead in the riding is still unexpected.

Liberals are even doing well in Provencher. The party took just seven per cent of the vote in the riding in 2011, but are running a respectable second with 34 per cent for Terry Hayward in the Forum poll. The Conservatives' Ted Falk is well ahead, however, with 53 per cent support.

Even if Liberals don’t pull off a victory in Brandon-Souris, they do seem set to put up some impressive numbers in a region that has seen its voters abandoning them in droves.

Liberals leading in Bourassa, which has been Coderre's fiefdom since the 1990s, is perhaps not so shocking. But New Democrats were expected to do well with Stéphane Moraille on the ballot. Instead, she seems to have gotten little traction with her support holding steady at 19 per cent, putting her just two points up on the Bloc Québécois' Daniel Duranleau.

Liberal candidate and former PLQ MLA Emmanuel Dubourg had 56 per cent support in the poll, apparently taking all of the support that drained away from the Green Party after Georges Laraque withdrew. Support for his replacement, Danny Polifroni, dropped from 12 to two per cent.

But the race that has gotten the most attention is undoubtedly the one in Toronto Centre, between media personalities Chrystia Freeland for the Liberals and Linda McQuaig for New Democrats.

Forum polled more than 800 people in the riding in their last two polls and found McQuaig is making gains. Her support has increased to 35 per cent from 30 per cent in mid-October. That still puts her behind Freeland, virtually unchanged at 46 per cent support, but well within striking distance — particularly considering the mixed record of byelection polling.

On that score, Abacus Data's David Coletto brings up some worthy concerns with the sampling and weighting methods employed by Forum for this survey. But turnout being what it is in a byelection, it is difficult to know for certain what effect these issues may have on the poll's ability to get close to the result.

The influence of local issues and candidates does seem to weigh rather heavily on these four byelections, particularly in Brandon-Souris and Toronto Centre, the two races to watch. But that won't stop the leaders from drawing larger conclusions from the results.

At this point, the bragging rights go to Justin Trudeau.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers every week. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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