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Conservatives riding high after a lopsided victory in Durham federal byelection

Conservative candidate Jamil Jivani, a commentator and activist, scored a sizable victory in a federal byelection Monday — a lopsided result the Tories are spinning as an ominous sign for the Liberals in the Greater Toronto Area.

Jivani claimed about 57 per cent of the vote compared to 22.5 per cent for his closest competitor — Liberal candidate and local ward councillor Robert Rock — in this suburban-rural riding east of Oshawa, Ont., on the outskirts of the province’s Golden Horseshoe region.

“There’s really no other way to describe it, the byelection results were terrible for Mr. Trudeau and his Liberal Party,” Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner said in a Tuesday blog post.

“It was a major, historic routing in a riding in vote-rich southern Ontario. In the boxing world, this would be the electoral equivalent of a decisive K.O.”

Rempel Garner added that every Liberal incumbent “in the blast radius of Durham with any modicum of sense left should realize this is very, very bad news.”

In a social media post, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre touted Jivani’s vote count as “the best result in Durham of any candidate since the Conservative Party merged 20 years ago.”

Ontario's Advocate for Community Opportunities Jamil Jivani speaks during the Queen's Park daily COVID-19 briefing in Toronto on Thursday, June 4, 2020.
Jamil Jivani speaks at a Queen’s Park daily COVID-19 briefing in Toronto on Thursday, June 4, 2020. (Rick Madonik/The Canadian Press)

Jivani, the son of an African immigrant who graduated from a U.S. Ivy League university, got “no easy breaks” and will be a “champion of working people,” Poilievre said.

“He’ll help me axe the tax, build the homes, fix the budget and stop the crime,” Poilievre said, referring to promises to scrap the federal carbon levy and take a harder line on crime.

It’s Poilievre’s promise to “build the homes” that may have had the greatest appeal to voters in this Toronto-adjacent riding.

In Clarington, Ont., one of Durham’s population centres, home prices have nearly doubled since Trudeau took office in 2015, according to data from

WATCH: Conservative Jamil Jivani delivers victory speech after byelection win 

Conservative Jamil Jivani delivers victory speech after Durham byelection win

5 hours ago

Duration 2:12

Conservative MP-elect Jamil Jivani says his win in the byelection for the Greater Toronto Area riding of Durham shows the Conservative Party best represents the values of Canadians’ communities.

The final result was never really in doubt. The Conservatives have held this riding and its predecessors for decades.

Even in the 2015 election — when the Liberals easily bested the Conservatives throughout southern Ontario when Trudeau was at the pinnacle of his popularity — former MP Erin O’Toole kept the seat for the blue team with a 10-point margin.

Turnout was also relatively low, with just 27 per cent of registered voters casting a ballot.

Trudeau congratulated Jivani in a social media post Tuesday. The Liberal Party said it had no official statement on the result but a party source spoke to CBC News on background after the vote.

“This is a 20-year Conservative stronghold. It’s no surprise they won this election,” said the Liberal source, who was not authorized to discuss the party’s thinking publicly.

“I’m not sure it spells the doomsday scenario they they’re trying to paint. Obviously, there’s work for us to do — we know that. But it is not catastrophic.”

The Liberal source also pointed to last year’s byelections — in which Liberal candidates performed better than expected — as a sign that all is not lost for Trudeau and his team.

“Of course, we can always do better. We’re going to keep talking, keep doing the work so we can drive up those margins,” the source said.

But Monday’s result was particularly strong by historical standards.

Jivani’s margin of victory over Liberal candidate Rock was more than double what O’Toole put up against his Liberal opponent in the last federal election — and O’Toole was the party leader with the weight of a national campaign behind him.

O’Toole had a 16-point margin of victory in the last outing. Jivani is about 35 points ahead, with some votes still outstanding as of midday Tuesday.

The Liberal vote share dropped by about 7.5 points compared to the 2021 election. The NDP also saw a significant dip, losing about seven points of their vote share.

The two parties have been working together under the supply-and-confidence agreement, pushing through new social programs for dental care and pharmacare.

PPC vote share holds up

Poilievre has even started branding Trudeau as an “NDP-Liberal” prime minister in an attempt to tie the two parties’ fates together.

The People’s Party vote share held up, with candidate Patricia Conlin capturing five per cent of the vote — about the same as what she got in the last contest.

The Conservatives have been trying to bring that breakaway party’s voters back into the fold by appealing to people who are leery of vaccine mandates and trans medicines for kids.

“We set out to send Justin Trudeau a message and I think we were successful,” Jivani told supporters at a restaurant in Clarington, after the CBC News decision desk projected he’d win the race.

“Durham wants Pierre Poilievre to be the next prime minister of Canada. I think that has been the resounding message from Scugog to Oshawa to Clarington.”

The Liberals tried to generate a positive result in the riding, even though the party is facing national and provincial polls that suggest Poilievre’s party is well out in front at this point.

Poll aggregator 338Canada puts the Tory lead at 16 points nationwide.

Trudeau himself went to stump for Rock in the area last month.

He painted Jivani, who’s originally from Brampton, Ont., as a parachute candidate.

“He’s lived and worked and served this riding and this community for 20 years,” Trudeau said of Rock. “He is there to be your voice in Ottawa, not Ottawa’s voice here in Durham.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a campaign event for Liberal by-election candidate Robert Rock, right, in Durham riding, in Bowmanville, Ont.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a campaign event for Liberal byelection candidate Robert Rock, right, in Durham riding in Bowmanville, Ont. on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. (Cole Burston/Canadian Press)

The prime minister also publicly praised Rock at the party’s first caucus meeting after Parliament’s winter break while lampooning Jivani as another Conservative “ideologue” and “insider” trying to get to Ottawa.

The government also made a series of pro-nuclear announcements in recent weeks — policies that would have some appeal to the people of Durham, where Ontario Power Generation’s Darlington generating station employs more than 3,000 people.

Asked if it was a particularly stinging defeat because the prime minister personally campaigned in Durham, the Liberal Party source said Trudeau has gone to every byelection riding since he was first elected leader.

“The prime minister is always going to visit byelections — that’s just what he believes in. He believes in showing up for people who want to put their name on the ballot for him,” the source said.

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