Voters in two provincial Ottawa-area ridings will be heading to the polls next month.
Premier Doug Ford called byelections Wednesday for Feb. 27 in Ottawa-Vanier and Orléans.
The contests are to fill seats vacated by former Liberal MPPs Nathalie Des Rosiers and Marie-France Lalonde last year.
Progressive Conservative insiders emphasize the governing party has little chance of wresting the ridings from the Grits, who held them when they only won seven seats in the 2018 provincial election.
But sources, speaking on background in order to discuss internal deliberations, say that does not mean the Conservatives will concede the contests without a fight.
The bylections — the first since Ford became premier — are an opportunity for the Tories to road-test some messages and methodologies and gauge the electoral temperature almost midway through their first mandate.
In Ottawa-Vanier, vacated by Des Rosiers last summer as she left to be principal of the University of Toronto’s Massey College, the Liberal candidate is French-language school board chair Lucille Collard.
Collard was the runner-up for the Grit nomination to Des Rosiers in 2016 and has been campaigning since September.
Carrying the Ford flag is Patrick Mayangi, who works as a legislative assistant on Parliament Hill for Alberta Conservative MP Garnett Genuis.
The New Democrats are fielding Myriam Djilane, who works for Air Canada.
Environmentalist Benjamin Koczwarski is running for the Greens.
The Tory hopeful is Natalie Montgomery, a doctoral candidate whose husband, Cameron Montgomery finished second to Lalonde in 2018.
Manon Parrot, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1979, is running for the New Democrats.
Lawyer Andrew West the Green candidate in Orléans.
Ford has carefully timed the byelections, which are taking place in the middle of the provincial Liberal leadership race.
With the Liberals electing a new leader at a March 7 convention in Mississauga, the votes will force the Grits to divert scarce resources to campaigning.
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In the same vein, the Tories are holding their policy convention in Niagara Falls on Feb. 21-22, thereby avoiding any hangover of potential byelection defeats at that confab.
The votes are also far enough away from the budget expected to be tabled in late March by Finance Minister Rod Phillips so they will not be viewed as a referendum on the government’s spending plan.
There are currently six Liberal MPPs in the 124-member legislature after the defection of former Tory Amanda Simard, who quit Ford’s caucus to protest cuts to French-language services.