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Canada election: 905 ‘crucial’ for any Conservative path to victory, experts say

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Winning over Ontario voters in the hotly contested and vote-rich 905 region is imperative for any Conservative path to victory in this year’s federal election, experts say.

The area, which has stayed largely Liberal through the last two federal elections, will need to flip predominantly blue if Erin O’Toole wants a shot at becoming Canada’s next prime minister, according to analysts who spoke to Global News.

“I think it’s crucial to any chance they have for securing victory,” said Lydia Miljan, a political science professor at the University of Windsor.

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“Holding the Liberals either to a minority or pushing themselves into some form of governing territory. The fact remains that the 905, as well as the 416, just has so many seats. It’s such an intensive place for votes that without it, it’d be pretty much impossible for the Conservatives to form a government.”

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The 905 largely encompasses the Golden Horseshoe region in southern Ontario around Toronto, excluding the city itself.

Miljan said the area is made up of that “core mushy middle” of voters — middle-class residents, as well as new immigrants.

She said since the Conservatives don’t have very strong support in Quebec, 905 voters will be key in determining how well the party does.

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Conservative strategist Jason Lieater said while it’s made up of a diverse population, “the 905 essentially votes as a block.”

He said that at the end of every campaign, it often turns out that if a party holds more than a few 905 seats, they hold the majority.

“And that’s been my sort of experience throughout my political lifetime, provincially and federally,” he said.

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Appealing to voters in the 905

So what does O’Toole and the Conservative Party need to do to win over voters in the region?

Experts said targeted clear policies, as well as making residents familiar with O’Toole and his role as a Durham Region MP are key for them to achieve success.

“People in the 905 feel like they’re sort of falling a little bit behind — houses are getting more expensive, it’s harder to get downtown, cars — everything’s getting more expensive and they feel like they’re falling behind,” Lieater said.

“So sort of tapping into that kind of feeling really is the key.”

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On Monday — one day after the election was called — O’Toole released the Conservative Party’s 160-page platform.

Ipsos Public Affairs CEO Darrell Bricker called the plan “custom-made” for the 905 area.

“If you take a look at his platform, things like, for example, a strong position on climate — well that’s for the 905,” he said. “Things for new Canadians, that’s for the 905. Things on housing.”

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Bricker said O’Toole’s “entire strategy” seems to be geared towards the Golden Horseshoe area.

“Now obviously he wants to win in the lower mainland, he wants to make sure he holds onto the west, but that detailed policy plan is designed for middle-class voters, homeowners, people who are commuters who live in the 905,” he said.

Becoming better known

Beyond policy, the experts said O’Toole needs to make himself well known in the region.

Lieater said coming into this election campaign, Trudeau has a lead in the 905 partly because he is better known than O’Toole, who only became the Conservative leader around one year ago.

“People have essentially only been seeing Mr. Trudeau for the last couple of years rather than Mr. Singh or Mr. O’Toole for example,” he said.

The experts said O’Toole needs to make it clear to voters in the 905 that he too is from the area — a member of Parliament for Durham Region.

“The fact that he is from that region should lift the votes of all other Conservative candidates in that area … because he sort of brings the idea for those voters that it’s, you know, he’s not a scary guy, he’s been elected before in that area and so surrounding areas might find him also more appealing,” Miljan said.

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Where things stand now

Meanwhile, Bricker said currently the race in the 905 is very competitive and looks closer for the Liberals and Conservatives compared to the 2019 federal election.

“We have the liberals ahead by I think nine or ten [percentage points] in Ontario overall. Usually, it’s about half of that in the 905,” he said.

“So the Liberals probably have a slight lead in the 905, but that’s competitive. And they won by double digits in the 905 in the last election, by the way.”

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Both Bricker and Miljan said what would also assist the Conservatives is if the NDP perform better than they did in the previous election, creating a vote split among the left and allowing the Conservatives to come out on top.

So far it appears the NDP is becoming more popular, Bricker said.

Read more: Liberals maintain lead as election begins, but face tough road to majority: poll

“So the NDP’s up in our polling for Global … and you know those are not Conservative voters going to the NDP. Those are Liberal voters going to the NDP, or Green voters.”

But Bricker said the Conservatives still need to improve their own numbers in the region to have an impact and would likely need to “sweep” the area to form a government.

With still nearly one month to go in the election campaign, there is still lots of time to make voters change their mind, the experts say.

“There is volatility in the voters and a lot of people haven’t been concerning themselves about elections, maybe hoping that we wouldn’t have one, but now that they’re going to have to focus their attention, there is room for movement in the polls in every region,” Miljan said.

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Election day is set for Sept. 20.

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