I consider myself a hobby psephologist and obviously I couldn't help but try and peer into the bubbling pot that is Canadian federal elections. I know every MP, their ridings, the riding history, the notable one's records, by heart. When I make this list, I don't do so lightly - I've come to consider the data and history, and if these ridings were to fall to the Oppositon, they are signs that the Harper government is on its way out. So here's my list, in descending order of ability to win, of ridings to watch in the next election:
10. South Shore--St. Margaret's - winnable for either NDP or Liberals
This riding on Nova Scotia's southern coast has been held by Conservative Gerald Keddy since 1997. You might think this makes it a true-blue riding, but there has yet to be an election where Keddy has outrun either Liberal or New Democrat opponents by 8 points or more, or even reach 40% in support. Furthermore, provincially this riding is represented by all NDP members - the entire stretch of it, which is about 5-6 seats. To make matters worse for Keddy, two former MPs for the riding and its area - Gordon Earle for the NDP, and Derek Wells for the Liberals (also NSLP President) - and will probably make sport out of his support. Even worse still, Keddy has been getting a lot of flak recently, due to him sparking the entire "big cheque" controversy.
If this riding falls, the Harper government won't be far behind.
9. Nunavut - winnable for the Liberals
Nunavut went to the Conservatives in 2008 after they snagged a former territorial minister as their candidate, who is now our quite hapless Health Minister, Leona Aglukkaq. The riding is one that the Liberals lost after their incumbent decided not to run again, and the person who replaced her didn't gain any traction, among other reasons. But this riding is winnable for the Liberals again if they push hard enough; taking out an incumbent minister would surely sting the Conservatives. And if it were to fall, with the Health Minister in tow, I personally think it'll be a signature defeat for the Conservatives and a sign of eroding prospects for continued governance.
The NDP also have a significant presence in the territory, but if it becomes a two-horse race, as I suspect it would, the NDP support will most likely drift away, just as quickly as it came.
8. Roberval--Lac-Saint-Jean - winnable for the Bloc
This riding in 2008 nearly reverted back to the Bloc, with Conservative MP Denis Lebel, who is now the Minister of State for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec (what a mouthful) hanging on by a nail-biting 4% (or about 1500 votes), after blowing the Bloc away with a 32% differnece, in a 2007 by-election. Contrary to what's usually expected, Lebel managed to get more votes in the by-election than what he got in the election. Not a good sign.
As the Harper government's essential front man in the province, Lebel losing his seat would certainly put a damper on any ambitions the party had on getting that majority through Quebec.
7. Fredericton - winnable for the Liberals
There isn't much to say about Fredericton; it went to the Conservatives in 2008 after former Liberal MP Andy Scott retired from politics. They snagged provincial member and former minister Keith Ashfield as the candidate, and won a modest victory over the Liberals, but not a real blow out of major proportions. Ashfield is now John Everyman in the Conservative caucus - he holds three different cabinet posts, including National Revenue, Minister of the Atlantic Gateway, and most importantly, Minister of State for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency - essentially the go-to man for your issues if you live in Atlantic Canada. If Fredericton falls, it's not a good sign for the Conservatives - losing their man in the Atlantic provinces will sting, and could be sign of a larger swamping on the horizon. It's also a good target seat for the Liberals, and if they managed to win it back, they'd be working well towards their goal of government.
6. Saint Boniface - winnable for the Liberals
What can you say about Shelly Glover? She's tough, she's rude, and she's been compared to Sarah Palin. She took this riding from former MP Raymond Simard, who is running in the riding again, and she ended up with a pretty good margin. If the Liberals can take back this Winnipeg-area riding, knock out Glover, and establish a better foothold in the province, it's a sure sign of Conservatives on the wane. Why? Because Glover is pretty much second to John Baird in being the spokesperson for the Conservative Party. She is right there on law and order issues, and especially on the gun registry, and her loss is the Party's collective loss, and possibly a sign of deteriorating tolerance for the Harper government's policies.
5. Pontiac - winnable most likely for the Liberals or Bloc
Everyone knows who the MP for Pontiac is - Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, seen here in the picture to the right, being given the "death stare" by US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Cannon isn't really in an enviable position in his riding; both the Liberals and the Bloc have strong bases of support in the riding, and even the NDP seem to be flexing muscles. Cannon seems to have survived by a split in the vote between all three Opposition parties, in what could truly be labeled a four-way contest in Quebec. If Cannon were to lose his riding, it means one of two things; either the Harper government really screwed up somehow, or the voters decided to back one of the other Opposition parties to knock him out. These aren't mutually exclusive, and both are bad for the Harper government.
4. Haldimand-Norfolk - winnable for the Liberals
Haldimand-Norfolk is a very interesting riding with a very interesting MP - that being Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, and former Citizenship and Immigration Minister. Her riding has the unfortunate distinction of being the location of the Caledonia disputes, for which Finley has not received accolades, completely losing the town to the Liberals and an independent in 2008. To complicate matters, Bob Speller, former MP, generally liked fellow, and former Agriculture Minister, is running again - something that could prove to be either a boon or a bust for Finley. If the riding goes red, then the Liberals are probably doing something right - and the Conservatives aren't.
3. Egmont - winnable for the Liberals
Egmont is the only riding on PEI to switch hands since 1988. Former provincial minister Gail Shea won the riding in a squeaker of a result over former Premier Keith Milligan, the Liberal candidate after the incumbent dropped out. Shea is now the Fisheries Minister, and like Ashfield in Fredericton, she will be a focus point for resentment in Atlantic Canada against the Harper government. I place it so high on the list for the simple reason that it seems notoriously hard to me for incumbents to get rooted out, and Shea may just pass the mark again, as she personally herself isn't a bad MP or minister. If she does fall, though, it won't be pretty.
2. Ottawa West--Nepean - winnable for the Liberals
That's right - John Baird's riding. Minister of Transport. Government spokesman. Harper's bulldog. His seat is not quite as safe as you'd think - being only 9 points ahead of former Defence Minister and all around cool guy, David Pratt. 5000 votes separate the two who will be facing each other again in the next election - not much at all. If Baird fell, then you pretty much know Harper's government is going to the dustbin; Baird came with the Harper government, and he will leave with it as well. Both candidates are ruthless campaigners from what I've heard, and both will jump at the chance to spill some blood. Watch this riding for sure.
1. Whitby--Oshawa - winnable for the Liberals
If I were to tell you that Jim Flaherty could get kicked out of office, would you believe me? Probably not, because Flaherty has this riding all but locked up - so why did I put at as the number one sign of imminent Conservative collapse?
Mainly because it is from out of reach for the Liberals. With a powerful candidate, they could make a real sport out of this riding. Unfortunately, it would also take a collapse of the Conservative government for them to really gain a foothold. And if that happens, then you know Harper is in trouble. Losing Flaherty, Harper's right-hand man and symbol of Conservative economic policy, would be devastating. Even coming close would be telling for the Harper government. He is almost untouchable, almost sacred, in terms of Ministers and MPs for the Conservatives. The moral defeat alone would send the party into depression.
If Flaherty falls, so will Harper.