Opposition parties held their turf in three Ontario byelections Thursday as voters stuck with the status quo by casting ballots against Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government.But the Liberals showed much better results in two of the ridings compared to 2003, as name candidates helped improve the government’s showing in byelections for three seats vacated by provincial members who ran in January’s federal campaign.

There were no surprises among the victors ? Conservative wins by Lisa MacLeod in the Ottawa-area riding of Nepean-Carleton, and Christine Elliott in Whitby-Ajax, east of Toronto, plus a New Democrat win for Peter Tabuns in a downtown Toronto jurisdiction.

But significantly improved Liberal results in Toronto-Danforth and Whitby-Ajax will give McGuinty something to boast about in the face of recent polling data that suggests they’re neck-and-neck with the Opposition Conservatives some 18 months before the next provincewide election.

“If you’re Dalton McGuinty, you’re going to be pretty happy,” said McMaster University professor Henry Jacek.

Liberal officials were expecting losses in all three ridings. The premier noted this week that the last time a governing party won a byelection held by an opposition member was 1985.

Name recognition for at least two of the Liberal candidates ? former television anchorman Ben Chin in Toronto-Danforth and former federal Liberal MPP Judi Longfield in Whitby-Ajax ? helped give the party a better showing compared to 2003 in ridings whose political stripes haven’t changed in many years.

However, the fact there were no big negative shifts in Liberal popularity might be evidence McGuinty isn’t frustrating the electorate the way his opponents might hope, said Ryerson University Prof. John Shields.

“It may be an indication there’s not huge dissatisfaction with the Liberal government at the moment,” Shields said.

Jacek said the Liberals also might have been helped by a “feel-good” Ontario budget last week that didn’t do any damage to the Liberal brand, particularly in Toronto, which received the lion’s share of new transportation infrastructure funding in the budget.

Tabuns, a former Toronto city councillor, won a Toronto-Danforth riding that has been solidly in NDP hands since 1964.

But Chin, in his first campaign foray, had a strong showing, with most polls reporting he captured around 40 per cent of the popular vote ? well up from the 31 per cent gained by Liberal candidate Jim Davidson in his 2003 loss to former NDP MPP Marilyn Churley.

Elliott won a close race for the Whitby-Ajax seat left vacant when her husband Jim Flaherty, now federal finance minister, decided to run federally.

Longfield made a slight gain over the 40 per cent share captured in 2003 by Liberal candidate Dennis Fox in his loss to Flaherty.

In Nepean-Carleton, MacLeod held the Conservative seat vacated by John Baird, who is also now a member of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet.

MacLeod’s main competition was Liberal Brian Ford, a former Ottawa police chief.

Conservative officials appeared nervous they’d lose the Whitby-Ajax seat to Longfield, a longtime federal Liberal who lost her seat to Flaherty in January.

Conservative Leader John Tory made several stops in the riding during the campaign to boost Elliott’s support.

Results were delayed by a half-hour Thursday because three polling stations, including one in Whitby-Ajax, were unable to open on time.