OTTAWA -- After claiming victories in two Toronto federal byelections on Monday night, where the Liberals’ share of the vote dropped in tight races against the Conservative and Green candidates, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that byelections are “always a challenge.”

“Byelections are always a challenge, even more so in the pandemic,” Trudeau said during a press conference on Tuesday. In the York Centre riding, 18,058 of 70,434 registered electors voted, and in Toronto Centre 25,203 of 81,400 registered electors cast a ballot, according to preliminary Elections Canada results. 

Despite facing calls to call-off the byelections due to surging case counts in Toronto, Trudeau touted that the turnout — which was much lower than in the 2019 general election — as evidence that Canadians’ remain democratically engaged despite “the challenges that we may be facing.”  

Because of the health restrictions the candidates in these ridings had to get creative about how they engaged voters, from virtual events to distanced door-knocking. 

Trudeau also noted that the two incoming MPs are women, inching Parliament closer to gender parity. 

“We look forward to having both these strong women join our progressive team as we work to support our communities, and to build back better,” he said. 

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole — who campaigned for the leadership on a promise he could pick up seats for his party in the GTA — saw things differently. He said that the byelection results in both ridings “shows Canadians are losing faith in Justin Trudeau.”  

In York Centre, Liberal candidate Ya’ara Saks won with 45.7 per cent of the vote, after a nail-biter of a night that saw her and Conservative candidate Julius Tiangson alternating first and second positions as preliminary results came in. Tiangson eventually finished second, with 41.8 per cent of the vote, a marked increase from how the Conservative candidate fared in that riding in 2019. NDP candidate Andrea Vasquez Jimenez finished a distant third with 5.8 per cent of the vote, followed by People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier, who secured 3.6 per cent of the vote. 

Saks is replacing former Liberal MP Michael Levitt who resigned his seat in September to pursue a new career and spend more time with his family. 

“York Centre made their choice. I am so proud… I'm your neighbour, I'm not just your MP… I'm a mom here, my family's here and my business is here and we're going to just get to work,” she said in an interview with CP24, adding that she intends to represent everyone in her riding despite the partisan division. 

In Toronto Centre, Liberal candidate Marci Ien won with 42 per cent of the vote to beat out Green Party Leader Annamie Paul’s 32.7 per cent of the vote, a large boost from how she fared in the same riding during the 2019 general election. NDP candidate Brian Chang finished in third with 17 per cent of the vote while the Conservatives’ Benjamin Gauri Sharma came away with 5.7 per cent.

Ien is replacing former finance minister and Liberal MP Bill Morneau who announced his resignation in August, citing a desire to pursue a bid to lead the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). His high-profile departure came on the heels of admitting he paid $41,000 to WE Charity to reimburse the organization for trips he and his family took while he was in office. 

Fresh off her win, Ien says she plans to bring an “authentic voice” to Parliament Hill. 

“The Liberals said, ‘Hey, we want you as part of the team’ while I was using this voice, this authentic voice,” she told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday. “I was telling my story and telling it loudly and talking about social change, and saying that Black Lives Matter and talking about LGBTQ2S+ issues, all of these things. This is the voice that they wanted. So this is the voice that we have.”

The former CTV broadcaster and now incoming MP said her career as a broadcast journalist and her experience as a Black woman in predominantly white spaces have prepared her for her next role as a politician. 

“When you were the first to do something, you’re walking through doors, you’re carrying a lot of people with you… it is about the job you do, and it’ll impact who comes next, or if they come next. So there's this pressure, there’s this pressure to succeed,” she said. 

In both ridings the NDP lost ground from 2019, with their candidates securing a smaller percentage of the vote than they had during the last general election. 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has congratulated the Liberals and thanked his candidates.  Asked whether his party’s results mean the NDP will back the Liberals to avoid a general election, Singh said no.

“New Democrats have shown in the past that we can fight elections with less resources than the other parties. We've done it successfully… and have been able to show Canadians an alternative,” he said. 

With no other seats vacant at the moment, the Greens and Paul may have to wait until a general election is called to run again for a seat in the House of Commons. For now, Paul says she’s okay with that outcome and she’ll focus her time on getting out and meeting with Canadians as much as safely possible in the months ahead without having to be on Parliament Hill. 

“We've been just amazed and really appreciative of the response that we've had. You know, the last few weeks has just been a whirlwind and certainly people are interested, you know they're taking another look,” she said in an interview on CP24. 

With files from CTV News’ Jackie Dunham