Ontario Ridings to Watch
17 ridings to keep an eye on
Ontario’s election will be decided in each of the province’s 124 ridings. Here are 17 of them to keep an eye on throughout the campaign and to look out for when the votes are counted on June 2.
These profiles were originally written for the Weekly Writ and are far from an exhaustive list. Subscribe to The Writ so you don’t miss future profiles of the tipping-point ridings that will decide this campaign.
Rather than try to keep up on every party’s candidate nominations, I have listed below only those candidates whose parties captured at least 10% of the vote in the riding in 2018. Visit the Elections Ontario website to find out what candidates are running in every riding.
Don Valley West
In the 2018 Ontario election, the Liberals were reduced to just seven seats — and they very nearly didn’t even hit that number.
Don Valley West was one of two ridings the Liberals managed to win by less than a percentage point. That the party held this seat, though, can be largely chalked up to the name on the ballot.
This riding was first won by Kathleen Wynne in the 2003 election, when she took a seat that had previously backed the Progressive Conservatives during the Mike Harris years.
Between 2003 and 2014, Wynne always carried the seat by at least 10 points. In 2011 and 2014 it was a very safe riding for the Liberals, as Wynne, who became Ontario Liberal leader and premier in 2013, won it by 28 and 26 points, respectively.
But in 2018, the Liberals’ vote dropped in Don Valley West to just 38.9%. That was just enough for Wynne to squeak by, though, as Jon Kieran of the PCs came up short with 38.5%. The NDP finished third with 18.8%, followed by the Greens at 2.8%.
It could have been worse for the Ontario Liberals. While Wynne’s support dropped 17 points in Don Valley West, the Liberals averaged a loss of 23 points in all the neighbouring ridings. Had it not been for Wynne, Don Valley West might have been added to the PCs’ majority in 2018.
That does raise the question of whether the Liberals can hold this seat now that Wynne won’t be on the ballot as she retires from politics (to her credit, she finished her term as an MPP, unlike most former leaders). The party is hoping that Stephanie Bowman, who was on the board of the Bank of Canada, can keep it in the Liberal fold. But the NDP might spy an opportunity, as they have a star candidate in Irwin Elman, Ontario’s former child advocate.
It would be a big, big lift for the New Democrats to take this seat away from the Liberals, even without Wynne. And if the party does draw support away from Bowman, the result could be that the PCs come up the middle — and they have a star candidate of their own on the ballot in former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders.
It was a coup for the Progressive Conservatives to win 11 seats in Toronto in the 2018 election. It’ll be a coup if they can win even half of those again this year, but one of those seats will be a little more difficult to hold for the PCs since Scarborough Centre MPP Christina Mitas will not be running again.
More broadly, the one-term MPP not being on the ballot might make things a little easier for the PCs on the campaign trail, as she was one of the few unvaccinated MPPs in the legislature (though with an undisclosed medical exemption). Unlike his federal counterpart the Ontario PC leader will likely be happy to say his candidates are vaccinated and be done with that debate.
Mitas won the seat in 2018 with 38.4% of the vote, beating the NDP’s Zeyd Bismilla by five percentage points. The Liberals, who had previously held the seat, took just 22.1%.
The Greens had 2.3% support, putting them not fourth but fifth behind the Libertarian candidate.
This was the third-tightest win for the PCs in Toronto and a pick-up for them. Brad Duguid of the Liberals, who did not run for re-election in 2018, had easily won the seat by a margin of 33 points back in 2014.
Scarborough Centre went Liberal in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2014, but supported the PCs during the Mike Harris years and the NDP in 1990. So, it has a bit of a recent bellwether tendency.
While Scarborough Centre was a close contest in 2018 and will be targeted by the PCs, NDP and Liberals in 2022, the federal Liberals scored a huge victory in the seat in September, winning it by 33 points. Still, Scarborough Centre supported Stephen Harper’s Conservatives back in 2011, so even at the federal level it can go blue when the NDP and Liberal vote is split.
After York Centre, Scarborough Centre has the largest Filipino community in Ontario. According to the 2016 census, 12.5% of the population identified as such, while 70% identified as a member of a visible minority. Demonstrating the diversity of the Greater Toronto Area, that still only ranks Scarborough Centre as the 14th-most diverse riding in the GTA — and 5th out of the six Scarborough seats.
School trustee David Smith will be running for the PCs. The New Democrats will be putting forward former Toronto city councillor Neethan Shan, while Mazhar Shafiq will be running for the Liberals again.
The riding that was the closest race in the 2018 provincial election was Scarborough–Guildwood.
This Toronto-area seat was won by Mitzie Hunter of the Ontario Liberals, one of only seven seats the party was able to hold on to in the province. After sweeping Scarborough in the 2014 election, Hunter’s was the only one of the six Scarborough seats the party kept.
She won it with 33.4% of the vote, against 33.1% for Roshan Nallaratnam of the Progressive Conservatives. The NDP finished third with 27.6%, followed by the Greens at 2.4%. The margin of just under 0.3 percentage points and 74 votes made it the tightest on election night.
As you can see from the image above, the Liberals’ support was concentrated in the southern portion of the riding, while the northern segment (adjacent to the Scarborough seats that swung to the PCs) went blue.
The seat has voted with the Liberals since the 2003 election, with Hunter herself holding it since a 2013 byelection. Federally, the riding is held by John McKay, who just won it in September by a margin of 40 points. While the seat has been more wobbly at the provincial level, this has been a very safe riding for the federal Liberals — the area last voted for the federal PCs in 1988.
According to the 2016 census (which is getting dated), 26.5% of residents in Scarborough–Guildwood say they have a commute of at least 60 minutes, the third-most in the country. It’s share of the population that identifies as South Asian is the sixth-largest in Ontario at 33.2%, while the share that is Black is the eighth-largest at 14.3%. In all, 71.2% are from a “visible minority” population, as defined by Statistics Canada, and just over half of the population immigrated to Canada.
The Fords have had a lot of sway in Etobicoke for a long time. The base of support for Doug Ford (and the late Rob Ford), Etobicoke is the heart of the so-called Ford Nation. Might that nation expand its territory in June?
The PCs sure hope so — and will have another member of the Ford clan on the ballot, Doug’s nephew Michael Ford, in the riding of York South–Weston.
This seat in Toronto was won by the Ontario New Democrats’ Faisal Hassan in 2018 by a very thin margin. He captured 36.1% of the vote against 33% for the PC candidate. The Liberals, who had held the riding previously, fell to 27.8%.
It was a case of a nearly perfect Liberal-to-PC swing. The PCs jumped 22 points from their performance in 2014 as the Liberals fell 20 points. The NDP, despite the province wide surge in support, actually slipped one point in York South–Weston.
There was a similar pattern in the neighbouring ridings of Etobicoke North (Doug Ford’s seat) and Humber River–Black Creek, whereas in Eglinton–Lawrence, Davenport and Parkdale—High Park the swing was almost entirely from the Liberals to the NDP. This suggests the political dynamics in York South–Weston are more similar to that Ford Nation territory than the more central ridings in Toronto.
Nevertheless, York South–Weston is a traditionally strong NDP riding. The New Democrats were only a few points back of the Liberals in 2007 and 2011 and were still within 10 points of the Liberals here when that party won a majority government in 2014. The riding has been Liberal since 1996, but prior to that the York South portion of the district was solidly NDP (and even CCF), as it was held by former leaders Donald MacDonald and Bob Rae for more than four decades without interruption starting in 1955.
The area has changed a lot since the days of the Co-operation Commonwealth Federation, though. In the 2016 census, 52% of the population in York South–Weston were immigrants (as is the NDP’s Hassan) and it had the second-biggest Black population in Ontario at just over 23%. Federally, the seat has been held by Liberal MP (and former immigration minister) Ahmed Hussen since 2015.
The Ontario Liberals can’t be discounted here. Despite the big drop in support, they were still within striking distance of the NDP and PCs in 2018. The PCs need to hope the Liberals will be a factor again, as the party’s 33% vote share in the riding in 2018 was the best the PCs have ever done since they won a small sliver of present-day York South–Weston in 1959. If they can’t expect to do much better than 33%, they will need the Liberals and NDP to split the rest of the vote pretty evenly.
Michael Ford could be a boon for the party because of the success of the Ford family in this corner of Toronto, but Michael Ford is a city councillor for Etobicoke North, not York South–Weston. Will the name carry as much weight here?
Greater Toronto Area
Brampton Centre (Ontario)
The Ontario New Democrats’ Sara Singh won Brampton Centre by a margin of just 0.3 percentage points (89 votes) in 2018, making it the slimmest victory for the NDP anywhere in the province. She captured 38.4% against 38.1% for the Progressive Conservatives.
The Liberals were far back at 17%, while the Greens took just over 3% of the vote.
The city was a real battleground in 2018, as Brampton Centre was one of three ridings in the city — there are five in all — decided by less than two percentage points.
Will it be a battleground again? You can be sure that the PCs would like to make some gains at the expense of the New Democrats in Brampton, particularly if the NDP slumps to the benefit of the Liberals. And you can be sure that the NDP is going to be fighting hard to keep those seats. So, yes, I think Brampton will be a battleground again.
The riding was contested for the first time on its current boundaries in 2018, as this fast-growing part of Ontario has had its boundaries shift around quite a bit. But, unlike the federal NDP, the Ontario NDP does have some history in the area, as its predecessor ridings split between the Ontario Liberals and Ontario NDP in both 2011 and 2014, when a certain Jagmeet Singh was the NDP standard-bearer.
Prior to that, the Liberals won what is today Brampton Centre in both the 2003 and 2007 provincial elections, while the Mike Harris PCs won the seats in 1995 and 1999. It has been a bit of a swing area for the last few decades.
Federally, though, it has been solidly Liberal throughout the Justin Trudeau years. Since Ontario last voted provincially in 2018, the Liberals have won Brampton Centre by 20 points in 2019 and 15 points in 2021. In both elections, the NDP was a distant third.
Sara Singh will be running again to hold her seat, but will face a challenge from Brampton city councillor Charmaine Williams, who will be running for the PCs. Realtor Safdar Hussain will be the Liberal candidate again (he ran in 2018).
It’s not surprising there are so many ridings to watch in Brampton — the city was a tight battleground in 2018.
The New Democrats came out just ahead in the city as a whole, winning 38.9% of the vote and three of Brampton’s five seats. The Progressive Conservatives won the other two and captured 37.7% of the vote, while the Liberals took only 18.6% of ballots cast.
Brampton North was one of those closely-fought ridings, with Kevin Yarde just edging out the PC candidate with 37.5% to 36.3%. Liberal support fell 19 points to just 21.2%, with the NDP gaining six points and the PCs picking up 12. Had the PCs taken just a bit more of that Liberal vote, they would have won Brampton North.
While a PC-NDP fight in 2018, the Liberals can’t be ruled out in 2022. The Liberals won the main predecessor riding of Brampton–Springdale in 2007, 2011 and 2014, and won the area that now makes up Brampton North in 2003. The PCs haven’t won here since 1999.
Federally, Liberal MP Ruby Sahota has held the seat since 2015 and captured a majority of the vote in the last two elections. With the lone exception of Stephen Harper’s majority government victory in 2011, this area has voted Liberal at the federal level since 1993.
So, it’s a battleground and the interest in this seat would be obvious even without the recent drama.
That drama surrounds a nomination challenge. It’s rare for a sitting MPP to have his or her nomination challenged, and it’s even rarer for that MPP to lose it. That’s what happened to Yarde when his nomination was challenged by businessman Sandeep Singh, who won it by a reportedly wide margin.
While nomination challenges are perfectly by-the-book within the NDP, this has nevertheless ruffled some feathers. Black members of the Ontario NDP caucus have criticized the party for failing to do more to protect an incumbent and the first Black MPP from Peel.
Brampton North is a very diverse riding. According to the 2016 census, 41.5% of the population identified as South Asian, ranking it fourth in Ontario (the other three were elsewhere in Brampton), and another 12.4% identified as Black, ranking the riding ninth in the province.
The NDP was going to have to fight for this seat already as the polls have given the Ontario PCs a big lead in the GTA and the Liberals are likely to be more competitive, particularly in a riding with a lot of Liberal history. The hard feelings from this nomination challenge might not help matters.
We already know what one of the top issues of the 2022 Ontario provincial campaign will be: highways.
The Progressive Conservatives are proposing two in particular. The Bradford Bypass will connect highways 400 and 404 north of Newmarket, making it easier for commuters who have to cut across secondary roads. This project is the smaller of the two and seems more likely to go ahead, though there are some environmental concerns surrounding the project.
The other is the proposed Highway 413, a huge undertaking that would run from around Vaughan to Halton, skirting north of Brampton. It’s an attempt to lessen the gridlock on the 401, though many experts believe it will just become another traffic-clogged artery in the GTA soon after it is finished.
Is there politics at play in this? Of course. And that brings us to Brampton West. You can see in the map below where the riding is located relative to the proposed route of the 413.
Commuting is a big issue in Brampton West. According to the 2016 census, 20% of commuters in the riding have a commute of at least 60 minutes. That ranks it 19th in the country (and in Ontario, as the longest commutes are all around the GTA) and is the highest for any of the five Brampton ridings.
Brampton West was the third-narrowest win for the PCs back in 2018. Amarjot Sandhu won it with 39.4% of the vote, narrowly beating the NDP’s Jagroop Singh, who had 38.1%. The Liberals finished well behind in third with 18.5%, while the Greens (at 2.6%) weren’t a factor.
The riding was a big gain for the PCs, as the Liberals had held it since 2003 and beat the PCs by 21 points in 2014. It’s a riding the PCs will desperately want to keep in the next election, and they know it will be a challenge. The federal Liberals have captured a majority of the vote in Brampton West twice since 2018.
The question will be whether the NDP vote will hold up in Brampton West. The New Democrats did very well in Brampton in 2018 as the Liberal vote collapsed, but the area hasn’t been very friendly to Jagmeet Singh’s NDP in the last two federal elections. If the Ontario Liberals perform better in 2022, will those votes come from the NDP — and so keep the PCs competitive in Brampton West?
The New Democrats captured St. Catharines by a margin of just three percentage points in 2018, with 36.6% support to 33.6% for the Progressive Conservatives. The Liberals followed with 24.5%. The Greens were well back at 3.7%.
The federal Liberals won the riding in last September’s election by a margin of five points over the Conservatives, showing how St. Catharines is just another one of these ridings in which the progressive vote got behind whatever party has been best placed to defeat the Conservatives or PCs over the last few years.
Provincially, though, St. Catharines was a reliably Liberal seat since 1977. Or, to put it more accurately, it was a reliably Jim Bradley seat since 1977. The former Liberal MPP held the seat without interruption from 1977 to 2018, when he was finally displaced by the NDP.
So, we’ll see what happens in June. Jennie Stevens is running again for the New Democrats, while the Liberals will be without Jim Bradley for the first time in nearly half a century with Ryan Madill on the ballot instead. The PCs will be running city councillor Sal Sorrento.
This riding, located west of Hamilton, was narrowly won by Will Bouma of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives with 42% of the vote in 2018. The NDP was only 1.1 percentage points behind at 40.9%.
The Liberals and Greens, at 9.5% and 4.7%, respectively, weren’t a factor, despite the Liberals’ Dave Levac holding this seat throughout the McGuinty-Wynne years.
Brantford–Brant is probably at the very top of the NDP’s target list. Only Ottawa West–Nepean was lost by the party by a smaller margin, but unlike that seat Brantford–Brant is likely to be a straight blue vs. orange fight. For the PCs, this should also be near the top of their list of vulnerable seats, as it was their second-narrowest win.
The NDP won the polls located in Brantford, while the PCs won the surrounding outskirts and rural areas in the riding. The NDP needs to fill up a little more in Brantford itself, or hope that the PC vote drops in the rural areas.
That could come about if the PCs lose some of their support to parties to their right.
In the September federal election, the People’s Party scored well in Brantford–Brant, capturing 8.5% of the vote. Contrary to the provincial scene, the Liberal and NDP vote was more evenly split in the federal contest, and the Conservatives won this easily enough with just over 40% of the vote.
Both of the parties to the right of the PCs — the New Blues and the Ontario Party — have candidates in place in Brantford–Brant so they could siphon off some of the PC vote.
Enough to matter? Well, the federal Conservatives held their vote steady between 2019 and 2021 despite the growth in support for the PPC, so it could be that the new PPC support came from past non-voters. But support for the Conservatives as a whole did go up in Ontario — just not in Brantford–Brant.
It’ll only take a little bit of a vote-split for the PCs to lose this seat (assuming the NDP can prevent a split on the left from a stronger Liberal campaign).
Will Bouma will be running again for re-election with the Progressive Conservatives. The NDP has nominated Harvey Bischof, former president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, one of their higher-profile candidates for the upcoming election.
MPP Belinda Karahalios was elected as a Progressive Conservative back in 2018, winning the riding of Cambridge for the party by a margin of 4.5 percentage points over Marjorie Knight of the New Democrats, 37% to 32.5%. The Liberals finished third with 23.3%.
This riding, located roughly in the centre of a triangle formed by Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo and Hamilton, has voted with the Ontario PCs in every election since 1995, with the exception of the 2014 vote when it went to the Liberals. It’s been a consistently close race, with margins of less than eight points deciding every election since 2003.
What’s interesting about Cambridge heading into the 2022 Ontario election, though, is that Karahalios will not be running for re-election as a Progressive Conservative. Instead, she is the only MPP representing the New Blue Party.
This party was started last year by Jim Karahalios, the husband of the sitting MPP and a would-be contest for the Conservative Party leadership in 2020. He had raised enough money and had gathered enough signatures to run, but Karahalios was disqualified by the party after Erin O’Toole’s campaign complained that he had ‘defamed’ O’Toole’s campaign chair.
Later that year, Belinda Karahalios was ejected from the Ontario PC caucus for voting against legislation that awarded the government emergency powers due to the pandemic.
So, to make a long story short, the interest here is to see what the impact of Karahalios’s candidacy for the New Blue Party will be in Cambridge. It’s clear the party is aiming at disaffected PC supporters — especially those who found a home in the People’s Party of Canada in the September federal election, when the PPC captured over 7% of the vote in Cambridge.
A split in the right-of-centre vote in Cambridge between the PCs, New Blue and the Ontario Party, which is explicitly trying to be the PPC’s provincial vehicle, could make things a lot easier for either the NDP or the Liberals to win the seat.
This riding in the far southwestern corner of Ontario gently spoons the two ridings in Windsor. In 2018, the NDP’s Taras Natyshak won for the third consecutive time with 47.9%, followed closely by Chris Lewis of the PCs at 43%.
The Liberals mustered just 5.6% of the vote, with the Greens taking 3.5%.
That combined share of the vote captured by the PCs and NDP was the highest in any of the ridings decided by tight margins in 2018. It means that the next election is very likely to be orange vs. blue in Essex — the Liberals just aren’t in it.
But the cast of characters will be different. Natyshak isn’t running again and Lewis went on to become the Conservative MP for Essex in 2019 (a title he maintained in 2021).
This could be a problem for the New Democrats, who tend to suffer big losses when they lose an incumbent — usually bigger losses than other parties do when they are in the same boat.
Granted, the Windsor-Essex area is pretty NDP-friendly. Natyshak has held Essex since 2011 and all three ridings in the area have been NDP since 2014. The PCs haven’t won a seat in the area since — wait for it — 1964!
The NDP took a big hit in Essex in 2018, though, falling 12 points from its 2014 performance in the area. That was a much worse result than the NDP had in neighbouring ridings: the New Democrats increased their vote share in Windsor West and Chatham-Kent–Leamington, and only dropped four points in Windsor–Tecumseh.
Part of this could have been due to Lewis. As you can see in the map above, the NDP won most polls across the riding with the exception of those polls in and around Kingsville, where Lewis was a municipal councillor. Now that Lewis has made the leap to federal politics, the NDP could regain its support in Kingsville (which it won back in 2014) and solidify their hold on Essex.
Also complicating matters for the PCs is the performance of the People’s Party in Essex. The PPC captured 9.9% in September. That’s a big chunk of the vote that could go to one of the further-right off-shoots vying for attention in Ontario, and a chunk the PCs would like to have.
These factors work in the NDP’s favour. But the loss of Natyshak hurts, and the federal New Democrats have taken a hit in the Windsor-Essex area in the last few elections. The party lost Essex in 2019 and captured just 32% of the vote in the riding in 2021.
The Kitchener area is shaping up to be a real battleground in the 2022 Ontario provincial election with retiring incumbents and three ridings decided by less than five percentage points in 2018.
The Progressive Conservatives held on to Kitchener–Conestoga seat by just 1.6 points, taking 39.6% of the vote to the NDP’s 38%. The Liberals finished well back with 14%, followed by the Greens at 7%.
Mike Harris Jr. was the PC standard bearer in 2018. Not only is Harris the son of former Ontario PC premier Mike Harris, he’s also unrelated to his PC predecessor in the riding, Michael Harris.
It’s a bit confusing.
Kitchener–Conestoga surrounds Kitchener on three sides, with only a portion of it in the south containing a more densely populated segment of the city. The rest is pretty rural and voted comfortably PC, while the NDP won that smaller urban part of the riding. (They also hold the urban ridings of Kitchener Centre and Waterloo.)
The New Democrats made big inroads in the region in 2018, gaining 17 points in Kitchener–Conestoga, primarily from the faltering Liberals. Harris only won the seat by gaining three points over the performance of the previous Harris — had he not done so, the NDP would have won.
That it was this close should set some alarm bells off for the Progressive Conservatives as, with the exception of when the Liberals won the riding in 2007, this area has been consistently voting blue since 1995.
The federal results should also make the PCs sweat, as Kitchener–Conestoga was one of the rare seats that swung from the Conservatives to the Liberals in 2019. The Liberals won it again in 2021 by a little more than a percentage point. The 7.2% of the vote that went the People’s Party’s way probably played a role in the riding not swinging back again.
In 2018, Amy Fee of the Progressive Conservatives narrowly won this seat with 38.9% of the vote, finishing 1.8 points ahead of the New Democrats. The Liberals came up third with 15% as the party’s vote collapsed (much of it going to the NDP), while the Greens managed 7.5%.
That score for the Ontario Greens was actually the sixth-best for the party anywhere in the province. The federal Greens managed to win Kitchener Centre in the September 2021 election, so the Greens could play a minor role in this area — and potentially be a spoiler.
Kitchener South–Hespeler is located between Kitchener and Cambridge, containing a little of both cities. In 2018 the NDP did best in the polls closest to Kitchener’s city centre, while the PCs did well elsewhere, particularly in the Hespeler neighbourhood of Cambridge.
This suburban seat’s boundaries have shifted over the years, but the area has long been a swing region. The New Democrats won what is today Kitchener South–Hespeler in 1990, but then it swung over to the Mike Harris PCs in both 1995 and 1999. It largely stuck with the PCs in 2003, was split between the PCs and Liberals in 2007, went back towards the PCs in 2011 and split again in 2014.
So, in all likelihood Kitchener South–Hespeler will remain a tight race.
The Ontario New Democrats appear to be the PCs’ chief rival, as they hold the area ridings of Kitchener Centre and Waterloo, and were registering over 20% support in the region even before their 2018 breakthrough. Federally, though, the Liberals have won this seat in three consecutive elections, holding on by a margin of two points in September.
What makes this riding even more important in the upcoming June provincial election is that Amy Fee, the PC incumbent, is not running for re-election.
The Liberals will be trying to make a comeback with community organizer Ismail Mohamed.
Seats like Kitchener–Conestoga and Kitchener South–Hespeler often decide which parties get to form government in Ontario. The PCs own rural areas and the Liberals or NDP dominate urban centres. It’s always the party that does best in the suburbs and small cities that end up winning, as they add those seats to their pre-existing rural or urban bases. So, keep an eye on these two ridings.
Central and Eastern Ontario
If there was one riding the Progressive Conservatives were lucky to win in the 2018 Ontario election, it was Ottawa West–Nepean.
The PCs’ Jeremy Roberts took the seat with 32.8% of the vote, the smallest share of the vote for the winning party in any riding across the province. In fact, the PCs managed to win Ottawa West–Nepean despite their vote share actually dropping in the riding compared to 2014 by 0.5 percentage points.
It was a split between the Liberals and New Democrats that delivered this seat to the PCs. Former Ottawa mayor Bob Chiarelli had won it for the Liberals with 46% of the vote in 2014 and the PCs hadn’t taken the area since they last formed government in 1999. It seemed like a solid Liberal seat.
But the Liberal vote tanked in 2018, dropping about 16 points to 29.3%. All of that went to the New Democrats, who saw their support in the riding jump by 18 points to 32.5% — a big swing, but not enough to push the NDP past the PCs.
Ottawa West–Nepean just isn’t a good NDP riding. Not even in 1990, when Bob Rae’s NDP came to power, did the New Democrats win the seat. The good news for them, though, is that they don’t need much of a boost to win it for the first time.
It’s a riding that will be a microcosm of the challenge anti-Ford voters have in the upcoming provincial election. In many ridings across Ontario, the NDP surged into second place in areas they don’t have any historical strength as support for the Liberals collapsed. But was the 2018 campaign an anomaly or a re-alignment?
If you’re a progressive voter in Ottawa West–Nepean, do you give the NDP your vote to push them over the top? Or do you expect that other progressives will revert to the Liberals, the party they have supported in the past?
Either way, it won’t be an easy seat for the PCs to win. The party isn’t very popular in the Ottawa area and is unlikely to do better in 2022 than it did in 2018, when its popularity across the province was higher. But if they do manage to hold on, a split between the Liberals and the NDP will almost certainly be the reason why.
As Peterborough goes, so goes the province.
In 2018, Dave Smith of the Progressive Conservatives was able to win this seat located in, well, is it central Ontario, eastern Ontario, or the Greater Toronto Area? Nobody knows.
But Smith took the riding away from the Liberals’ Jeff Leal, capturing 37.7% of the vote. Leal dropped into third with 24.6%, behind the NDP’s 33.8%. The Greens took 3.3% of the vote in Peterborough–Kawartha.
Compared to the 2014 election, the Liberals lost 21 points in the riding, with the PCs gaining seven points and the New Democrats picking up 16. This swing is an indication of the more urban nature of Peterborough–Kawartha, as in all the neighbouring (more rural) ridings, it was the PCs who gained more than the NDP from the sliding Liberals.
In 2018, the NDP won the city centre (the Liberals won a few pockets as well), but the PCs captured the seat because it won the outlying urban areas and registered support approaching or clearing 50% in the rural north and east of the riding (with the lone exception of the Curve Lake First Nation, which went NDP).
Peterborough–Kawartha is a bit of a microcosm of Ontario, with its urban core, Trent University and outlying rural areas. Perhaps for that reason, it has been a reliable bellwether riding.
In every election since 1977, the riding anchored on the city of Peterborough has voted for the party that won the most seats: Bill Davis’s PCs in 1977 and 1981, Frank Miller’s PCs in 1985, David Peterson’s Liberals in 1987, Bob Rae’s NDP in 1990, Mike Harris’s PCs in 1995 and 1999, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals in 2003, 2007 and 2011, Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals in 2014 and, of course, Doug Ford’s PCs in 2018.
In fact, since 1937 the only blots on Peterborough’s bellwether record has been two NDP victories in 1967 and 1975. Otherwise, Peterborough has always had an MPP on the governing benches (at least, in the case of 1985, at first).
So, that’s why Peterborough–Kawartha is a riding to watch. Will the NDP maintain itself as the chief alternative to the PCs, or will the Liberals challenge Smith’s hold on the riding? Whatever happens in Peterborough–Kawartha is likely to give us an indication of what is happening elsewhere in the province.
Sault Ste. Marie
If you lived in Ontario and had either a television or an Internet connection just before the writ period, you probably saw an ad from the government touting just how great it is to be in Ontario. It’s a subtle message from Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives: “it sure would be a shame if you went and ruined all this in the upcoming provincial election, huh?”
If you’ve seen the ad, you might have noticed that it mentions one region in particular: the north. Could it be that the PCs see an opportunity — or a vulnerability — in Northern Ontario?
That brings us to Sault Ste. Marie.
The PCs managed to win this riding nestled between lakes Superior and Huron in a byelection in 2017, taking it from an Ontario Liberal Party that had held the seat since 2003.
In 2018, the PCs’ Ross Romano was successfully re-elected, taking 42% of the vote. But the NDP’s Michele McCleave-Kennedy was close behind with 40.7%, as her party’s share of the vote increased more than Romano’s compared to the byelection.
The Liberals fell back to just 10%, while the Greens took 3%. Sault Ste. Marie was an orange-on-blue fight, as the New Democrats won the polls in the centre of the city, while the PCs won in the outlying areas of the riding.
The shift from Liberal to PC in 2017 came after the resignation of David Orazietti, who won the riding throughout the governments of David McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne. That doesn’t make Sault Ste. Marie a bellwether, though, as it was the NDP that had previously held the seat from 1985 to 2003. Prior to that, it was PC blue since 1951.
So, Sault Ste. Marie likes to stick with one party. That could bode well for Romano.
Federally, the riding (which is bigger than its provincial counterpart) has been Liberal since 2015. But it has been getting tighter. Since the 2018 Ontario PC victory, voters in the riding gave Sault Ste. Marie to the federal Liberals by a margin of seven points in 2019 and just 0.6 points in 2021. The federal vote patterns within the riding match those at the provincial level if you swap the Trudeau Liberals with Andrea Horwath’s NDP.
The 2021 result suggests Sault Ste. Marie could be very tight again in 2022.
That might explain the focus on the north in the Ontario government’s ads. The PCs want to see Ross Romano, who serves as minister of government and consumer services, re-elected.
The NDP is hoping Michele McCleave-Kennedy will be luckier this time, as she is running again.
Thunder Bay–Atikokan is one of two ridings based around the city of Thunder Bay. Normally, it has been a safe Liberal seat. But in 2018, four-term Liberal MPP Bill Mauro was defeated by Judith Monteith-Farrell of the New Democrats.
It was by a very slim margin, with the NDP taking 36.3% of the vote to the Liberals’ 36%. The Progressive Conservatives were well back in third at 23.2%, while the Greens had 2.7% support.
The Liberal defeat meant the party had failed to win both of the Thunder Bay ridings for the first time since 1990 — and it marked the first time since 1985 that the Liberals didn’t hold at least part of the territory now occupied by Thunder Bay–Atikokan.
With their loss here, the Liberals only won a single seat in Northern Ontario, the neighbouring riding of Thunder Bay–Superior North.
This will be a fascinating contest that will feature something we’ll see in lots of ridings across the province: an NDP-Liberal fight in a formerly Liberal riding.
If the performance of the Ontario NDP in 2018 wasn’t anomalous, and if the party remains as the main alternative to Doug Ford’s PCs, then the New Democrats should be able to hold a seat like Thunder Bay–Atikokan. But if 2018 was a bit of an outlier, and the Liberals rebound, then it will be difficult for the NDP to hold this seat — and lots of similarly traditional Liberal seats in Ontario.