POLITICS

Southwestern Ontario a key federal election battleground, says prof

01/21/2015 12:15 EST | Updated 03/23/2015 05:59 EDT
Federal politicians have been spending a lot of time in southwestern Ontario over the past few weeks and it's likely because they consider the area critical to success in the expected fall federal election, says one expert.

The Conservative government recently made a number of funding announcements in Guelph and Waterloo Region, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair made a visit to Brantford on Tuesday, and on Wednesday Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau wraps up a two-day caucus meeting in London.

​​According to Anna Esselment, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, federal parties are interested in southwestern Ontario for a few reasons, including shifting seat tallies and falling oil prices, which most acutely affect Alberta.

"We have a more diversified economy and the thought is perhaps Ontario will be able to get us through the next year or so, where the reliance had been on the west," said Esselment in a interview with Craig Norris on The Morning Edition Wednesday. 

"In this area in particular, in southwestern Ontario, especially Kitchener-Waterloo, it's very important to a number of federal politicians because it's proved itself to be a crucial knowledge-based economy where we see a lot of commercialization of ideas, particularly out of the University of Waterloo," she said. 

"So governments are very interested in building on this success, and it's especially a chance for the Conservatives to say 'Here's an example of some really good economic stewardship that's happened under our watch.'" 

​​Esselment says another factor that federal parties are likely considering is the 30 new seats in Parliament that are up for grabs in the next election, with 15 new seats in Ontario alone.  Three of those new seats are in or near Waterloo Region, in Cambridge, Halton and Hamilton. 

"So Ontario is becoming even more critical to any party looking to win government," she said.

Candidates still being nominated

But before any election can take place, parties are still working to nominate candidates.

In Waterloo Region, many of the NDP and Liberal candidates haven't been chosen yet, but that doesn't necessarily put them at a disadvantage to incumbent Conservatives, said Esselment. 

"If they are able to nominate people who have some local prominence, that residents are already familiar with, then they don't have as much catch up to do," she said. 

Esselment says that the decision by the federal Liberals to hold a two-day caucus meeting in London is 'absolutely' an attempt by to leverage momentum from Ontario's provincial election last year, in which Kathleen Wynne's Liberals soared to a majority. 

"On the surface it looks like the Tories really have a lock on the number of these seats, but provincially the results were different. So you have the provincial Liberals winning a seat in Cambridge where they haven't won in a long time, Kitchener-Waterloo stayed NDP," she said.  

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau released a few details about his party's economic platform on Tuesday, saying that he would reverse the Conservatives' income-splitting plan and mentioning support from Ottawa for industry in the province. He said the party's full platform would be released during an election campaign. 

The Grits lost London with the collapse of the Liberal vote in Southwestern Ontario during the 2011 federal election. The Conservatives, on the other hand, won 73 of Ontario's 106 seats that year.

There be will a total of 338 seats up for grabs in this year's election.