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Ridings to watch: ‘The GTA is where this election is going to be won and lost’

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Of all the provinces and territories, Ontario has the most seats in the House of Commons, and any party wanting to form government in 2019 will have to dominate the province — or at least a good chunk of it.

While there are plenty of interesting local races on the go across the province, the 2019 election outcome will come down to the vote-rich Greater Toronto Area (GTA), which has played kingmaker in elections past, experts say.

“The GTA is where this election is going to be won and lost,” said Barry Kay, an associate professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University. “That’s where most of the competitive ridings are.”

READ MORE: What it will take to dominate Ontario during the federal election

According to Kay, it’s going to be a tight race between the Liberal and Conservative parties in many suburban ridings. Meanwhile, some downtown Toronto ridings will see a battle between the Liberals and New Democrats.

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With that in mind, here are some ridings to watch in Ontario as election day approaches:

The GTA

In 2015, a red wave swept through the region but, similarly to Atlantic Canada, experts expect Justin Trudeau’s Liberals won’t have the same luck four years later.

The fight for the GTA, however, won’t come down to one or two ridings — it will come down to groups of ridings, Kay said in an interview with Global News last week.

Specifically, he highlighted Newmarket-Aurora, Whitby, King-Vaughan and Richmond Hill as well as the Brampton-area and Burlington-Oakville ridings.

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On top of that, six ridings in Mississauga — including Mississauga-Streetsville and Mississauga-Lakeshore — are especially competitive, he added.

“If one party sweeps those ridings, that’s the party that’s going to form the government,” Kay said. “Do they all go the same way? No. But in recent elections, when there’s been a strong pattern, as there was federally for the Liberals in 2015 and provincially for the Conservatives in 2018, most of those ridings went that way.”

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Based off recent polling, at least 15 ridings in the GTA are “too close to call” at the moment, Kay said.

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Nelson Wiseman, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, also said the Liberals won’t get “anywhere near as many [seats] as they got last time” — but he argued the battle for the GTA will be equally as tough for the Conservatives.

“The Conservatives have to win, I would say, at least three-quarters of the seats in the GTA to form the government,” Wiseman said. “Even if they won that, there might still be a minority. And it’s conceivable they could still lose the election because of things that go on elsewhere, like in Quebec.”

Because so much depends on the GTA, the Liberals and Conservatives will likely devote a lot of campaign time and resources around Toronto, Kay said.

“That’s where the leaders are going to be,” he said. “You don’t go into Alberta where it’s clear the Conservatives are going to sweep just about everything.”

Markham-Stouffville

Markham-Stouffville, just northeast of downtown Toronto, is Ontario’s Vancouver-Granville — a riding where a prominent Independent candidate and former Liberal cabinet minister is shaking up the race.

Family physician Jane Philpott won Markham-Stouffville for the Liberal Party in 2015 and went on to serve in several top cabinet positions. The rookie minister, however, made headlines earlier this year for her high-profile resignation from Trudeau’s cabinet over the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin scandal. She and Jody Wilson-Raybould were later kicked out of the Liberal caucus.

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Now, Philpott is asking her Markham constituents to send her back to Parliament Hill as an Independent member of Parliament, throwing a wedge in the usual Liberal-versus-Conservative election dynamic that’s pervasive across a lot of the GTA.

Kay said Philpott’s riding is also “too close to call” at the moment based on polling done so far.

“I would suggest that the Conservatives probably have a slight edge there, but that could certainly go either way,” he said last week. “Philpott isn’t doing badly, I wouldn’t think, but I don’t think she’s ahead.”

WATCH (July 10, 2019): Former Ontario health minister Helena Jaczek to seek Liberal nomination in Markham-Stouffville
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For his part, Wiseman expressed more certainty the Markham-Stouffville will go blue on Oct. 21.

“Philpott will run a distant third,” he predicted. “I think she’s a really fine person, a great candidate, very competent [and] highly thought-of in the community, but that’s all marginal in most people’s calculations.

“They vote on the basis of party and leader.”

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Peterborough⁠-Kawartha

Outside the GTA, Peterborough⁠-Kawartha is a riding politicos love to watch because it has, with just a few exceptions, voted with the political party that formed government in every federal election since 1957.

“Peterborough is the best bellwether in the province,” Kay said. “Peterborough, more than any other riding in Ontario, has been on the right side of how Ontario votes for longer than any other riding the province.”

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Going into the election campaign, the riding was held by rookie Liberal MP and cabinet minister Maryam Monsef — who, in 2015, won the race with 43.8 per cent of the vote against the Conservatives’ 35.1 per cent.

WATCH (Sept. 23, 2019): PeterboroughKawartha candidates ramp up campaigns with four weeks to go until election day
Peterborough-Kawartha candidates ramp up campaigns with four weeks to go until election day
Peterborough-Kawartha candidates ramp up campaigns with four weeks to go until election day

In 2019, Monsef is running for a second term. She’s up against her 2015 Tory rival Michael Skinner, a local entrepreneur who’s on leave from heading a company that supports other entrepreneurs. NDP candidate Candace Shaw, Green candidate Andrew MacGregor and People’s Party of Canada candidate Alexander Murphy are also all vying to unseat Monsef.

At the moment, Peterborough⁠-Kawartha is “too close to call,” according to seat projections released by the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy on Thursday. The projections are based on a series of polls released between Sept. 20 and 24.

On Friday, however, Wiseman ventured a guess at what the outcome might be in the riding, predicting “a close race,” with the Conservatives coming out on top “by a couple of thousand votes.”

READ MORE: Canada election — Peterborough-Kawartha

Despite Peterborough-Kawartha’s track record as a reliable bellwether, the professor cautioned that a Conservative win in the riding in 2019 wouldn’t necessarily be a surefire signal of the national outcome.

“I think it’s only an indicator that the Conservatives are going to do better than they did in the last election nationally, but it’s not as good an indicator of who will form the government,” he said. “That’s because there still wild cards out there, and I’m especially thinking of Quebec.”

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