KITCHENER, Ont. — If you believe the talk inside the Liberal and Conservative parties, Stephen Woodworth is a candidate on the bubble.
The Conservative incumbent is in one of the most competitive areas in Ontario this election — he narrowly won Kitchener Centre from the Liberals in 2008, in an urban area with increasing ethnic diversity and a knowledge-based local economy hungry for better transit.
For decades, this Waterloo region has voted with the party that takes Ontario. And the party that can secure Ontario is on a path to power. An election conversation with a party person these days is usually about how certain parts of Ontario will vote.
Woodworth doesn't see the evidence of his purportedly precarious position — he says donations are up, there are more volunteers, and he's seen better results when he does door-to-door.
But he's also zen about what he has control over, and what he doesn't.
He emphasizes with voters the local things he's done, such as passport clinics and help with immigration files.
"I think we have some advantages, but it will be a close race," he said during an interview at his campaign office.
"The questions that everybody asks about how close it will be and what the results will be aren't really helpful questions, because there is no crystal ball. The only thing that you can know for sure, is what am I going to do in this moment that makes the most sense?"
The signs of a Liberal tide raising the boats in the Waterloo region were there at an Oktoberfest rally for Leader Justin Trudeau on Tuesday night.
The German-styled Hubertushaus was packed to the gills with supporters. Cars trying to get past the gate off the rural highway were turned away — the place was at capacity, the beer taps were flowing.
"I started out not sure about [Trudeau], but I have come to really appreciate what he's spoken for and that he's been consistent and he's been able to not be negative, I'm very fed up with negative campaigning," said Kitchener Centre voter Esther Neufeldt.
Woodworth's rival Raj Saini, a Kitchener pharmacist, says the main thing he's heard talking to voters is a desire for change, and he says the Liberals have been able to embody that over the course of the long campaign.
"In August, we saw a lot of indecision, a lot of people who had not made up their mind," said Saini, over the din of a band playing Blue Rodeo covers after the rally.
"People were not in the mindset, and then after Labour Day we saw the break happening, and over the last three to four weeks we've started to see a huge shift, people now focused on the campaign, and they're looking more closely at policy and they're asking really good questions."
If Saini is in fact part of a Liberal minority come Monday night, or even just a strong Liberal opposition, there will be plenty of questions about what happened in Ontario this election.
In the neighbouring Waterloo riding, NDP candidate Diane Freeman was a party favourite for a possible win — the Liberals now say they believe they could take it.
Was there a particular issue or event that contributed to an apparent Liberal surge?
Local talk show host Eric Drozd from Kitchener's 570 News says it's hard to pin down one issue in particular. Tuition is big with two universities in Waterloo, and residents remain frustrated the local GO Train doesn't yet run all day, both ways, to Toronto.
He notes that there was a strong reaction to the Syrian refugee crisis. The Conservatives were criticized for a slow response to calls to expedite the flow of asylum seekers.
The Mennonite Central Committee told the Record newspaper they've seen the biggest response in their history, with 27 groups sponsoring Syrian families. The region has a history of taking in refugees, including welcoming fleeing Russian Mennonites in the 1920s.
Still Drozd said the main thing he's sensed in the city is a bit of fatigue with the Conservatives after nine years in power.
"I get the sense that there is just this huge push for change, and I don't necessarily think that's because of the Conservatives," said Drozd.
"Any party that would be in for as long as the Conservatives have been in, I think Canadians just want change."
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