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ANALYSIS: Here are the 20 closest riding races that could decide the Ontario election

ANALYSIS: Here are the 20 closest riding races that could decide the Ontario election
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With two weeks to go until Ontarians go to the polls , tens of thousands of volunteers are working hard for all parties, trying to identify their supporters and get out the vote in the province’s 124 ridings.

Our model at this point, has Doug Ford ‘s Progressive Conservatives ahead in 70 ridings, Andrea Horwath ‘s NDP ahead in 49 races, Kathleen Wynne ‘s Liberals ahead in four districts and Mike Schreiner’s Green Party ahead in one (see below).

But, as you’ll see in the list below, there are enough close races to suggest that those numbers could look very different at the end of election day on June 7.

Notably, the NDP are nipping at PC ‘s heels in more than a dozen ridings and if all of those flipped, Horwath, rather than Ford, might well be premier.

For the Liberals , it really has become a game of “save the furniture,” an attempt by the party to hold to as strong a core as possible that it can build on for the next election. But, here again, the Liberals find New Democrats nipping at their heels.

Toronto and the GTA

Don Valley West [LIB-PC] Wynne may not only suffer the ignominy of losing government, she has a very good chance of losing her seat as well. Still, she remains personally very popular in her riding while sources say her PC challenger, Jon Kieran, has put off some potential supporters with what some campaigners in the riding say is an attitude that’s a bit too brash. Fun trivia note: The last time an Ontario party leader lost their own seat in a general election was in 2007 when then PC leader John Tory ran and lost in this riding, Don Valley West. Remember who he lost to? Kathleen Wynne.

Mississauga Centre [PC-LIB]  Doug Ford campaigned here on May 16, a stop that might clinch it for his candidate Natalia Kusendova. While there is no incumbent candidate, Liberal Bobbie Daid should have been able to count on the fact that, had this riding existed in its current form in 2014, it would have gone Liberal by 20 points. Not this year. The Liberals are likely to get swept out of all the Mississauga ridings — ridings which used to be easy Liberal victories. Daid has a slim chance of holding on.

Mississauga Lakeshore [PC-LIB-NDP] A surprisingly tight three-way race is underway in Mississauga and this time, the finance minister Charles Sousa is the incumbent. Former Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion endorsed Sousa on Thursday and Wynne made a campaign stop here on May 20 to support her finance minister, but it may not be enough. Sousa, who won here by 17 points four years ago, is popular in his riding but his leader may be more unpopular. As a result, Sousa is likely to lose to PC Rudy Cuzzetto although New Democrat Boris Rosolak could sneak up at the end.

Scarborough Centre [PC-LIB-NDP] When Doug Ford ran (and lost) against John Tory in the 2014 race to be Toronto’s mayor, a lot of voters in Scarborough put an ‘x’ beside Ford’s name for his commitment to bring a subway line to their neck of the woods. Campaigners say Ford remains popular to this day in what is traditionally hard-core Liberal territory for that reason. This riding was held by Wynne cabinet minister Brad Duguid but he’s not running this time and so, there is no incumbent. Duguid won by more than 20 points in 2014, but his votes may now be split between the Liberals and the New Democrats, allowing PC candidate Christine Mitas to come up the middle. Ford and Wynne have both campaigned in this riding, but it looks like Horwath really wants this one: She’s been to the riding three times, including a stop there Friday.

Scarborough Southwest [PC-NDP-LIB] While the PCs are confident of taking all six Scarborough ridings, they say this one will be the toughest nut to crack. And they may not have to pry it away from Liberal incumbent Lorenzo Berardinetti, but instead beat back NDP challenger Doly Begum — an example, yet again, in the Toronto and Greater Toronto area how sagging Liberal support has put the NDP right in the middle of races where they’ve rarely, if ever, mattered. Berardinetti won this in 2014 by more than 20 points.

Toronto-St. Pauls (NDP-LIB-PC) Ask any operative of any party what the two safest Liberal ridings are in the entire country and they will tell you that they are Ottawa-Vanier and Toronto-St. Pauls. Well, if the Liberals end up with just one seat in this election, it will be Ottawa-Vanier, because right now voters in Toronto-St. Pauls are leaning NDP for the first time ever, either federally or provincially. The incumbent here had been Eric Hoskins, who was health minister in Wynne’s government until he quit to head up a Trudeau government task force on national pharmacare. In 2014, Hoskin scooped up 59 per cent of the vote and the New Democrats could only score 11 per cent. The NDP will do much better here this time around, in what could be a historic loss for Liberals.

Vaughan-Woodbridge [PC-LIB] While the New Democrats are doing surprisingly well in Peel Region west of Hwy 427, and look set to sweep Brampton’s five seats, it’s a much different story east of Hwy 427 in York Region. There, the fights are good-old fashioned Blue Team versus Red Team affairs. None will be closer than Vaughan-Woodbridge, where the winner, be it Liberal incumbent and Wynne cabinet minister Steven Del Duca or PC candidate Michael Tibollo, will likely best his opponent by a few percentage points. Del Duca had an easy romp in 2014, winning by more than 30 points!

Eastern Ontario

Hastings-Lennox and Addington [PC-NDP] Campaigners for both the PCs and the NDP report little life in the campaign of the Liberal campaign. The PC candidate is Daryl Kramp, one of several former Harper-era Conservative MPs running in this election. Some of his supporters are nervous about Doug Ford. If Kramp can ease those anxieties, he’ll sweep in on an anyone-but-Wynne vote, just as he was swept out of federal office in 2015 on an anyone-but-Harper vote. Normally, a PC candidate would be looking over his or her shoulder at a Liberal candidate. Indeed, had this riding existed in 2014, it would have gone PC 39 per cent, Liberal 31, and 23 for the NDP. Not so this time. The Liberal campaign is nearly invisible and New Democrat Nate Smelle is hot on Kramp’s trail. Horwath pitched in here with a whistle stop on May 20 at the Strathcona Naval Centre, but growth in her support in Eastern Ontario appears to have hit a ceiling.

Ottawa Centre [NDP-LIB] Horwath is the only leader to have visited the writing, a visit that may push New Democrat Joel Harden over the top and push Wynne cabinet minister Yasir Naqvi out of a job. Harden is one of a handful of NDP candidates who are now taking fire from the PC war room for some radical writings in their pasts. In Harden’s case, he’s been fingered by the Tories as an unrepentant supporter of the controversial anti-Israel boycott-divest-sell (BDS) movement. Will Ottawa Centre voters care? Probably not.

Ottawa South [PC-LIB-NDP] There’s a handful of Liberal strongholds in the province, like Ottawa South, that should never be in play in any election and yet, long traditions appear set to be broken in 2018. Ottawa South looks to be one of those ridings. This riding has long been the fiefdom of the McGuinty family. The former premier, Dalton McGuinty held the riding provincially from 1990 to 2013, and his dad, Dalton Sr., held it from 1987 to 1990. Dalton’s brother David represents the riding now in the House of Commons. John Fraser is the Liberal incumbent, but he’s in the fight of his life to hold on against challengers from both the left and the right.

Central Ontario

Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock [NDP-PC] Rural Ontario. PC incumbent. You’d think this would be a lock for Ford Nation. Not in this election. Once again, Horwath appears to be striking a chord in what has been traditionally blue territory. Laurie Scott is carrying the flag for the blue team, but Zac Miller — a 20-year-old poli sci student — will certainly top the NDP’s best result here of about 17 per cent of the vote and might even get himself the best poli-sci job ever: a seat in the legislature at Queen’s Park.

Northumberland-Peterborough South [PC-LIB] This riding is one of those where the local Liberal candidate and incumbent MPP — Lou Rinaldi, in this case — appears to be popular but that popularity is up against the unpopularity of the Liberal leader, Wynne. The outcome on election day depends on whether voters stick with the local candidate or succumb to an “anyone-but-Wynne” mood and pick another candidate. If the sentiment for change at Queen’s Park is the chief motivator, the PC candidate — David Piccini, in this case — is the winner. Wynne, herself, held a rally here on the first day of the campaign.

Hamilton and Niagara

Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas [NDP-PC] The incumbent is Liberal Ted McMeekin in another riding that has new boundaries this year. Though the riding is Liberal federally, McMeekin appears to be headed for a third-place finish. And New Democrat Sandy Shaw could help Horwath to a Hamilton sweep of the Steel City’s four seats. Shaw will have to get by PC candidate Ben Levitt, who ended up surviving one of the PC parties innumerable nomination scandals. If Levitt narrowly loses — and he may — there may be those who will blame internal PC squabbling here as the deciding factor.

St. Catharines [PC-NDP] Liberal incumbent Jim Bradley has held this riding since 1977 and despite four decades of ebbs and flows in the Liberal tide, he’s always managed to return to Queen’s Park. This time, though, the anti-Liberal tide may be too deep, even for Bradley. Both the NDP and the PCs, perhaps sensing that change is about to come to St. Catharines, have each sent their leaders to this riding. Wynne has not dropped in. Tory Sandie Bellows is a slightly better bet than New Democrat Jennie Stevens to end Bradley’s long tenure.

Northern Ontario

Thunder Bay-Atikokan [LIB-NDP] Thunder Bay’s west side is represented by cabinet minister Bill Mauro, one of several members of Wynne’s cabinet who may fall on June 7. New Democrat Judith Monteith-Farrell, a representative with the Public Service Alliance, may surf to the top spot on an orange change wave. Meanwhile, on the city’s east side, incumbent Liberal cabinet minister Michael Gravelle in Thunder Bay-Superior North may also have reason to worry and, again, it’s the NDP that is knocking on the door. Wynne was in Gravelle’s riding this week for a quick pit stop to help shore up what should be two Liberal strongholds on Lake Superior’s north shore.

Southwestern Ontario

Brantford-Brant [NDP-PC]  A riding that had been a reliable Ontario Liberal fortress may be about to return its first-ever New Democrat, but the next two weeks will be a pitched battle between the NDP and the PCs, with the Liberals well back. The riding had been held by Liberal Dave Levac, the long-time speaker at Queen’s Park, but Levac decided to not run this time after holding the riding since 1999. Before Levac’s time, the dominant politician in the riding was Liberal Bob Nixon, a former party leader and deputy premier who held the riding from 1962 to 1991. His dad, Harry Nixon, once a Liberal premier, held the riding from 1937-1961. But New Democrat Alex Felsky, a local school board trustee and small business owner, appears poised end that long period of Liberal dominance. She ran in 2014 but finished third with 27 per cent of the vote. Both Ford and Horwath have done whistle stops in the riding.

Chatham-Kent-Leamington [PC-NDP] Though she lost three seats in downtown Toronto in 2014, Horwath saw her popular vote swell in southwestern Ontario, and though it translated into only a couple of new seats four years ago, she’s poised to capitalize with potential new wins in ridings like this one. Rick Nicholls is the incumbent PC MPP. The riding has some new boundaries, but in the 2014 version of this riding, Nicholls won by just four points over the NDP. Horwath, so far, is the only leader to stop in the riding to support her candidate Jordan McGrail, a robotics technologist at St. Clair College.

Guelph [GREEN-NDP-PC] Across the province, pollsters have found Liberal voters so weary of the choices in front of them that many may not vote and just stay at home. But in Guelph, Liberals disappointed that the popular Liz Sandals, a former Wynne cabinet minister, is not running appear to be moving to Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, who is running in this riding. The Greens took 19.3 per cent of the popular vote in Guelph in 2014, just one point back of the PCs and two points ahead of the NDP. On June 7, there is a better-than-average chance that Guelph will make history and elect the province’s first ever Green MPP in a tight three-way race.

London North Centre [NDP-PC] This riding is so pivotal to the city of London that all major party leaders have campaigned here. The riding has no incumbent, with long-time Liberal and ex-deputy premier Deb Matthews retiring. The PCs would love to snap it up but they’re in a dogfight with the NDP, which already holds the other two London seats and is eager to make it a sweep in The Forest City. Teacher Terence Kernaghan runs here for the NDP while the PCs have former Conservative MP Susan Truppe on the ballot.

Sarnia-Lambton [PC-NDP] If the NDP does form government on June 7, it will be because Horwath has simply crushed it in the ridings west of Hwy 6, stretching from Guelph and Hamilton, down through London, Chatham to Windsor and Sarnia. She’s been a constant presence in many towns and cities in that region during the campaign and it’s paying off with strong support. In Sarnia, for example, she held a health care town hall on May 14 and stumped for her candidate Kathy Alexander.  Bob Bailey has held this riding for the Tories since 2007, but in 2014, his margin of victory — over a New Democrat — had shrivelled to just six points.

A note on methodology

We make an assumption, partly based on those polls but also based on in-the-field reporting by Global correspondents, that the voter turnout will be a little higher in this general election than the 2014 general election level of about 51 per cent.

We also incorporate variables that reflect unique local situations such as the presence or absence of an incumbent, a visit to the riding by a leader, the presence of a star candidate, or a local controversy about one or more of the candidates.

Finally, we have tested some of our assumptions in detailed discussions with current and former campaign operatives from all three parties.
Read more on globalnews.ca
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