08/01/2013 07:14 EDT | Updated 10/01/2013 05:12 EDT

Ontario polls set to close as NDP, PC eye gains

Polls are open for a less than two more hours in five Ontario ridings tonight as the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats look to gain seats vacated by departing Liberal MPPs.

The byelections represent what pundits are billing as the first public test of Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne's performance since she replaced Dalton McGuinty as leader.

It's also an opportunity for Tory leader Tim Hudak to affirm himself as a man who can get results for the party following disappointing results in the 2011 general election.

"For Tim Hudak, this is a very important set of byelections," CBC's provincial affairs specialist Robert Fisher said. "You know, he's been fighting this internecine warfare from within his own caucus — people not necessarily happy with the fact that in the last general election, he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory."

Fisher said the Conservatives have "never let him forget that," and one way to rise above the criticism would be to take some wins or even second-place finishes.

"I think it's possible in a riding like Windsor for [victory] to happen," Fisher said. "And it will allow Hudak to go back to his caucus and say, 'OK, get off my back. I produced results. Let's get ready for the general election.'"

No matter what the results of the five contests, Wynne will retain her minority government as well as her premiership.

Polls are scheduled to close at 9 p.m. in the five ridings:

- Scarborough-Guildwood.

- Etobicoke-Lakeshore.

- Windsor-Tecumseh.

- Ottawa South.

- London West.

Calling Ford Nation

With slowed summer schedules and vacations for many, pundits predict a low voter turnout.

However, Toronto has emerged as a particularly fierce battleground to watch, as three current or former city councillors are vying for seats there.

In Toronto's west end, Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Coun. Peter Milczyn and Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday are going head-to-head, as Liberal and PC candidates, respectively.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford formerly held a council seat in Etobicoke (north of the provincial riding) and his brother Doug holds the same council seat now. The subject of the Fords, who have been embroiled in alleged drug-use controversies since spring, has emerged in the race.

The mayor has also been canvassing with the Progressive Conservatives, raising questions about the city’s often-rocky relationship with the governing Liberals. Both the Fords and the provincial Liberals have exchanged heated words during the campaign.

The contest will be a test of the Fords' power to sway voters in the area. It will also add to speculation whether or not Doug Ford will run for the Progressive Conservatives in the next general election, which he has openly discussed doing.

Across town in Scarborough-Guildwood, former Ford rival at city hall Adam Giambrone is fighting his way back into politics for the NDP. Giambrone was running for mayor in 2010 when a sex scandal brought down his campaign.

He is up against Mitzie Hunter, a transportation planner, for the Liberals, and Ken Kirupa, an entrepreneur, for the PCs. The dominating issue in this race is subways for Toronto’s east end.

Doug Ford has openly criticized Hunter on the transportation issue, calling the Liberal campaign "disgusting."

London lessons

In London West, education is a central issue, mainly because of the Liberals’ candidate.

The Liberals are running former teachers’ union boss Ken Coran, the former president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation who spent much of the last year sparring with the province over a deal with high school teachers. He even campaigned for the New Democrats in Kitchener-Waterloo.

He pins his past criticisms of the Liberals on McGuinty.

"We had our battles with a government that is no longer a government," he reasoned.

He is facing the NDP’s Peggy Sattler and PC candidate Ali Chahbar.

McGuinty's backyard

The cost of cancelling gas power plants in Oakville and Mississauga cost taxpayers an estimated $585 million, well above the figures initially quoted by the governing Liberals. In much of Ontario, that issue haunts Liberal candidates. But the gas plant controversy perhaps resonates most in former premier McGuinty’s old riding of Ottawa South.

There, PC candidate Matt Young has fuelled his campaign on public anger over McGuinty’s gas plant cancellations.

McGuinty's name still holds cachet in the riding, however. Support for the former premier can be felt in Liberal John Fraser’s campaign. Fraser was an aide to McGuinty throughout his years as premier, including during the gas plant cancellations. The riding is also represented federally by McGuinty’s brother, David McGuinty.

Bronwyn Funiciello, a former public school official, represents the NDP in the capital’s byelection.

The duel for Duncan's seat Windsor-Tecumseh has been in Liberal hands since 1995, when Dwight Duncan won it for the party provincially. Duncan went on to hold a variety of cabinet posts in the McGuinty government, most notably finance minister. The Liberals are now running first-time candidate Jeewen Gill to carry the seat.

However, the NDP's Percy Hatfield, a former broadcaster with the CBC and a city councillor, has name recognition in the area. He is seen as the front-runner to change the riding from red to orange, having won his city council seat by more than 50 per cent in 2010.

Robert de Verteuil, an auto industry consultant, is running a pro-manufacturing campaign for the Progressive Conservatives.

A host of other candidates in Windsor are also fighting for the seat.