(Bloomberg) -- Canada’s Conservative Party won a special election in a district in central Toronto, dealing a substantial blow to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party ahead of a national vote expected next year.

Voters in Toronto-St. Paul’s elected Conservative candidate Don Stewart to the House of Commons, flipping a seat that has voted Liberal in every election since 1993. Stewart won 42% of the vote, according to preliminary Elections Canada data, defeating Liberal candidate Leslie Church, who had just over 40%. 

While the result doesn’t change the balance of power in Ottawa, it was widely seen as an important litmus test for Trudeau. Monday’s loss suggests that even its traditional strongholds may be in jeopardy as Trudeau’s popularity wanes and the Conservatives, led by Pierre Poilievre, surge in the polls. 

The Liberals won the seat in the 2021 election by well over 10,000 votes.  

“This changes everything for the Liberals and for the PM,” Scott Reid, a onetime aide to former Prime Minister Paul Martin, said on the social media platform X. “If St. Paul’s is unsafe, there is no such thing as safe.”  

The loss is likely to raise the pressure on the embattled prime minister to step aside before the next election. The Liberals have consistently won big in Canada’s largest city, helping the party hold power since 2015. But Poilievre’s Conservatives hold a double-digit lead in polling, and would be on track to win a majority government if those numbers were to hold up in a national vote. 

The next election is scheduled to take place by October 2025, but the date can be moved. 

The Conservatives ran a campaign largely focused on the Liberals’ economic record. Canada’s economy is growing at a sluggish pace, housing is unaffordable to many and elevated interest rates are still frustrating borrowers. 

The party was also focused on the Israel-Hamas war, seeking to win support from a Jewish population that comprises about 11% of the district. The Conservatives have repeatedly accused Trudeau of being too soft in supporting Israel and failing to combat antisemitism at home.

For the Conservatives, the win is a sign that Poilievre can compete in urban districts they had long assumed were too liberal-leaning for them. 

“There’s been so much talk about how Poilievre couldn’t appeal to these areas, because he’s too conservative, too angry, or whatever other reason,” said Ginny Roth, a partner at Crestview Strategy and a former adviser to Poilievre. “Turns out, that’s not true.” 

Monday’s results showed the Conservatives received about 2,000 more votes in St. Paul’s than in the 2021 election, while the number of Liberal supporters plummeted. “This isn’t just about the Liberals losing, it’s also about the Conservatives winning,” said Roth. 

Church, a former chief of staff to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, held the lead through much of the night, but Stewart pulled ahead as the counting of ballots continued into the early hours of the morning.

Toronto-St. Paul’s was previously held by Carolyn Bennett, a Liberal Party stalwart and former cabinet minister who stepped aside to become Canada’s ambassador to Denmark. 

--With assistance from Doug Alexander.

(Updates with additional comments from political analyst and former adviser to the Conservative Party leader.)

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