Possibly to the chagrin of the rest of Ontario, much of the provincial election race will be held, and won, in and around Toronto.
You can expect to see the leaders of all three major parties spend most of their time in and around the provincial capital, pollsters say, and for good reason: The Greater Toronto Area, plus the Hamilton region, make up more of half of the 124 seats up for grabs on June 2.
“Everyone is going to be spending a lot of time in the GTA,” said Eric Grenier, polling analyst for TheWrit.ca, who runs the Ontario poll tracker for CBC News. “It’s really going to be the place that decides the election, as it always is.”
But different parties are likely to take different approaches to the region.
Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford didn’t spend much time campaigning in downtown Toronto in 2018, and probably won’t this time either.
The PCs achieved a majority last time by keeping most of the rural rides (the party’s traditional stronghold) while also winning seats in the inner Toronto suburbs and the surrounding 905 area.
“They’re always going to have problems in urban areas, so if they don’t win the suburbs, they can’t win the seats that they add to their rural base to form a government,” Grenier said. “So for PCs, I think that’s largely where they’re going to stay.”
That doesn’t mean the New Democrats and Liberals will give up that ground without a fight.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca spent much of the first few days of their respective campaigns in the cities surrounding Toronto.
And the NDP will work to keep its seats in Brampton, the fast-growing city hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, something that has made health care a top election priority for many voters there.
The NDP and Liberals will be in a fierce battle for the many seats in downtown Toronto, and even the Greens may be vying for a ride downtown, as leader Michael Schneiner hopes to add at least a second MPP to Queen’s Park. .
In the 2018 election, the NDP swept the seats in the center of the provincial capital, races the Liberals hope to win back this time.
Both parties will spend the first few weeks fighting in a kind of “progressive primary” for the progressive anti-Ford vote, said Darrell Bricker, executive director of Ipsos Public Affairs.
Last time, the NDP benefited by receiving the vote of anyone but Ford of Ontarians in hopes of avoiding a PC government. That kind of strategic voting is credited with helping the NDP win so many seats in downtown Toronto, among other venues like Downtown Ottawa, in 2018.
But that anti-Ford sentiment isn’t there this time, at least to the same extent it was for former Liberal Prime Minister Kathleen Wynne, pollsters say.
According to Frank Graves, president of EKOS Research, “there are a lot of people who don’t particularly approve of Ford” but are still willing to vote for the PC party, which has a firm lead in the polls at this early stage of the campaign.
Graves said the “visceral scorn” that followed Wynne in 2018 “is not a factor at this point in this election. Ford doesn’t suffer from it.”
Other areas to watch
Although the Toronto area is where the main action will be, that’s not to say there aren’t other exciting races in other parts of the province.
Parts of northern and southwestern Ontario may also see some action, particularly from the NDP, which has held the majority of seats in these regions for several terms, and the PCs. Pollsters say the workers on those trips can range from New Democrats, with whom they align on labor issues, to Progressive Conservatives who tend to reflect their social values.
“It’s more about who people feel they can connect with,” Ipsos’s Bricker said, suggesting Ford could have the upper hand there.
For Horwath, Grenier said, it could mean giving up rides where the NDP isn’t very competitive to focus on holding on to the seats his group already has.
Here are just a few of the areas outside of Toronto to keep an eye on:
Peterborough-Kawartha: This riding has been a benchmark since 1977, so always be on the lookout for signs of where the political winds are blowing. Del Duca had already passed on Wednesday.
Hamilton East-Stoney Creek: Four of the five rides in and around Hamilton, the hometown of NDP leader Horwath, are solid New Democrat orange. However, starter Paul Miller was ejected from the match due to a “pattern of problematic behavior”. Now several high-profile candidates are running, including an Order of Hamilton recipient, a city councilman and a former CFL player.
London-North Central: Although the NDP won this drive solidly in 2018, it was largely due to Liberal voters unhappy with the drive, which had previously been held by prominent Liberal cabinet minister Deb Matthews for 15 years. Now, the PCs are considering this ride as one they can pick up, so the area might get visits from some leaders.
West Ottawa-Nepean: Riding saw the closest race of the 2018 election. It had been a liberal stronghold for 15 years until 2018, when the PC candidate beat the New Democrat by 175 votes. The Liberals are seeking to win back the seat, while the New Democrats are vying to win it for the first time in history.