OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's governing Conservatives could score a significant political win on Monday if they manage to grab a safe parliamentary seat away from the main opposition Liberal Party, which is struggling in the polls.
If the Conservatives do win the by-election in the constituency of Vaughan, a suburban city north of Toronto, it would give them a boost ahead of a federal election that many political observers expect in the first half of 2011.
The Conservatives only have a minority of seats in the House of Commons and to capture a majority they need to win more seats in suburbs that surround Toronto, Canada's biggest city.
Polls show the Conservatives would lose seats in the House if an election were held now, even though the polls also say voters are not enthused by the performance of Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, a former academic who took over the party in December 2008.
The Conservatives, who derive much of their support from the West and rural voters, do not hold a single seat in any of Canada's main three cities -- Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
The Liberals won Vaughan with 49 percent of the vote in the last election in October 2008. The Conservatives are running a high-profile candidate in the form of former Toronto police chief Julian Fantino.
Ignatieff was placed in an awkward position last week when it emerged that the Liberals had first approached Fantino to see if he would run for them.
There are a total of three by-elections on Monday, all to replace legislators who stepped down.
The Conservatives are expected to retain the seat of Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette in the western province of Manitoba. Also in Manitoba, the left-leaning opposition New Democrats should hold onto Winnipeg North.
The first results will start coming in shortly after 9:30 p.m. (0230 GMT Tuesday).
Here is the current breakdown of the 308-seat House of Commons:
Conservatives -- 141 seats
Liberals -- 76
Bloc Quebecois -- 47
New Democrats -- 36
Independents -- 2
Vacant seats -- 6
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Peter Galloway