Canadian PM's party barely holds 'safe' seat after strong Liberal challenge
By Randall Palmer
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's ruling Conservatives only narrowly held onto what had been viewed as a safe seat in a district election on Monday after a scandal over Senate expenses hit his party's support.
The Conservatives' slim margin of victory also underlined the resurgence of the Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau, the 41-year-old son of the flamboyant late prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who took over the party leadership in April.
The Conservatives' near-defeat in the rural western Canadian province of Manitoba in the special election for the House of Commons will prompt soul-searching in the party, which has held the seat for 56 of the last 60 years, mostly by huge margins.
Harper has been tarnished by a scandal over housing and other expenses claimed by Conservative senators and by an apparent subsequent attempt to cover it up.
The Liberals suffered their worst-ever showing in the last general election in 2011, when they took only fourth place in the Manitoba riding of Brandon-Souris. But under Trudeau, it has catapulted into first place in national polls and came within one percentage point of taking Brandon-Souris on Monday night.
It was one of four districts contested in special elections on Monday, with the Liberals holding on to two they had been defending and the Conservatives keeping two they had held.
In Toronto, Trudeau had handpicked a former Thomson Reuters senior editor, Chrystia Freeland, who was parachuted in to contest a seat vacated by former Liberal interim leader Bob Rae. She beat fellow journalist Linda McQuaig of the left-leaning New Democrats.