Marci Ien, Ya’ara Saks elected in Toronto Centre, York Centre federal byelections

The Liberal Party of Canada has held onto two Toronto ridings after byelections in Toronto Centre and York Centre, but candidates from opposing parties have gained ground since last year’s general election.

Ya’ara Saks, a small business owner, was elected as the MP for York Centre after what was, at times, an incredibly close battle. At one point, Saks was just a single vote behind business owner and Conservative Party of Canada candidate Julius Tiangson.

It took almost four hours for all votes to be counted, but Saks ended up getting 8,253 votes and Tiangson received 7,552 votes — a difference of 3.9 per cent.

The NDP‘s Andrea Vásquez Jiménez came in third and received 1,046 votes. Maxime Bernier, a former Quebec MP and leader of the People’s Party of Canada, ran in York Centre and garnered 642 votes. The Green Party of Canada‘s Sasha Zavarella received 461 votes.

The byelection results marked a notable drop for the Liberals, which also was the first federal electoral test since the coronavirus pandemic began. In 2019, Michael Levitt, who resigned in September to become president and CEO of Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, had a lead of 13.5 per cent against the Conservative challenger at the time.

Saks was unavailable for comment after the results were announced by Elections Canada.

In the downtown riding of Toronto Centre, veteran journalist Marci Ien, representing the Liberals, was successful in her candidacy to succeed former finance minister Bill Morneau after his high-profile resignation in August.

Ien came out on top with 10,579 votes. Annamie Paul, who was elected leader of the Green Party of Canada three-and-a-half weeks ago, got 8,250 votes. The NDP’s Brian Chang came third with 4,280 votes. Benjamin Gauri Sharma ran for the Conservatives and came a distant fourth with 1,435 votes.

“What a night. It’s a little bit surreal. I was a journalist, talk show host some five, six weeks ago and now I have the honour of representing Toronto Centre,” Ien told reporters late Monday.

“Please hold me accountable. I want to have an open-door policy – an office people know they can come in … I want them to know that I am there for them.”

Ien, who turned her attention to getting sworn-in as the MP for Toronto Centre, said her priorities involve ensuring supports are available to residents and businesses amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as well as addressing affordable housing and homelessness. She said she had a particular message for voters and for those who want to get engaged in politics.

“I will not leave them behind. You’re looking at the daughter of immigrants who landed in St. James Town in the late ‘60s hoping to give their kids a chance and here I stand, and if I can stand here so can they,” Ien said.

“We need more women in politics. We need more diversity at the table. And when I spoke those words, a lot of people reached out.”

Blaize Exeter, Ien’s daughter, was one of a handful of people standing at her mother’s side after the results were announced and briefly spoke in support of her mother.

“It’s just amazing. These past 36 days … to see my mom completely transform from her job sitting as a co-host to running in an election is completely different. It’s been crazy for all of us and for her to be able to do all of that,” she told reporters.

“She’s still making us dinner and she’s still helping with homework, so that’s incredible.”

Like York Centre, Toronto Centre has a strong Liberal past and the byelection saw a slip in the party’s vote share. Morneau beat Chang by almost three-to-one in the 2019 election and Paul was a distant fourth when she ran.

Paul, who spoke Monday night before all of the results were announced, said the Green Party has made significant inroads in Toronto, and Toronto Centre in particular — calling it the “safest Liberal riding in the country.”

“We said we were coming to offer real representation and a real choice to people in a riding who desperately need it after decades of Liberal neglect,” she told supporters during a celebration that was broadcast on Zoom, calling the Green Party of Canada the “independent and progressive option” in politics.

“We showed up. We promised we were going to give people an option. Despite the timing, despite the entire Liberal machine turning out in order to make sure their candidate got elected, we’re still giving them a tremendous run for their money.”

Paul noted several neighbourhoods in Toronto Centre have been affected by COVID-19, unemployment and homelessness, and called for action to address those issues.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole thanked Tiangson and Sharma for their candidacies. He said the vote totals signify slipping support for the government.

“These results in two of the safest Liberal seats in the country shows Canadians are losing faith in Justin Trudeau,” he wrote in a message on Twitter.

Meanwhile, voter turnout in Toronto Centre and York Centre was 30.96 per cent and 25.64 per cent, respectively.

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