As the federal election comes to its final stage, many eyes are on Ontario. With the most seats and a flexible electorate, the province is garnering much attention from pundits and political strategists alike.
Stephen Harper has been a regular visitor in ridings that the Conservatives currently hold, giving the impression that he is focusing on keeping versus increasing seats.
Justin Trudeau on the other hand, is venturing into Conservative and NDP held ridings looking for new support. Clearly he is feeling pretty good about his incumbents. A key strategy for the Liberals, in these last days of the campaign, is to appeal to so-called Red Tories who may feel that they have been abandoned by the Harper Conservatives.
For blue-ish New Democrats, appealing messages are that Trudeau is the best ABC (Anything But Conservative) alternative and that the Liberals are a real progressive choice.
Thomas Mulcair is also spending time in Ontario, including Brampton, Oshawa and Toronto, where the NDP holds seats provincially, as his polls numbers continue to slide. He has to keep seats in the province. In large part, this is because he has a big problem in Quebec where the former Orange Crush is leaking as voters move to other beverages. If Quebecers abandon the Jack Layton coalition, then seats in Upper Canada become more precious.
Orange Crush may also be done in hip downtown Toronto where some star candidates are in trouble. Mulcair is being forced to spend time trying to salvage seats that were thought to be safe just a few weeks ago.
Winning seats in Ontario requires some fine balancing. While there is a desire to figure out what will appeal to voters across the province, it is also a bit of a mug's game and far more challenging than it looks.
Ontario is not the homogenous territory that stereotypes describe. There are distinct regions that seek different things and certainly have individual voting patterns. To generalize: Cities are red. Rural is blue. And orange appeals in the north, to some progressive downtowners and in old industrial centres like Hamilton and Windsor. There are few messages that resonate across the board.
Despite recent positive polls for the Liberals, they are not going to win the country based on places like Windsor. In fact, Trudeau has not yet visited the area during the campaign. Nor will they win Ontario's bible belts, such as rural southwest where Harper's niqab and other conservative views hold strong.
What is at play are the mid-sized cities and suburbs. Ridings include Sault Ste. Marie and the 905 cluster around Toronto, London, and the Kitchener-Waterloo area. The poor results for the Liberals last time around, combined with the increased seats in Ontario, means that the Liberals could easily go from seven to 47 seats in the GTA alone.
Where the three leaders spend their time will tell you much about what their own internal polling is telling them. A visit from party leaders can be the difference between winning or losing a seat, and in tight races, every seat counts.
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