Election speculation is ramping up, with Ignatieff, Layton and Harper all rattling their sabers at one another, saying that none of them are afraid of an election, and all expect to come out winners. While this could simply be end-of-the-year bravado from the party leaders, all who have had their ups and downs in 2010, the likelihood of a spring vote has greatly increased, regardless of what is in the 2011 budget. My guess? There will either be a call in March, or Harper will bet on an earlier election before the budget. Simply idle speculation, but nevertheless...
With all of this going on, the Globe and Mail has come out with a report about Conservative strategists targeting an extra 45 ridings on top of the current 143 they hold for the next election. It's easy to go down a list of low-hanging fruit for the Conservatives, so I won't do that here, but the G&M gives a few hints of what ridings the Conservatives will go after, including three in Newfoundland, and lots in the Greater Toronto Area, where they just recently managed a slim win in the former Liberal stronghold of Vaughan. They're specifically targeting ridings such as the three Bramptons, where the vote in 2008 was close. Mississauga East-Cooksville also gets an honourable mention due to long-time MP Albina Guarnieri's decision not to run again, and Conservative beliefs that they can snag it with the right candidate (which seems unlikely now, due to Mississauga East-Cooksville MPP and Ontario Labour Minister Peter Fonseca's decision to run in Guarnieri's stead).
Going from what's been mentioned in the article, the biggest margin the Conservatives believe they can overcome is in the riding of Charlottetown in PEI, where Liberal MP Shawn Murphy won't be running again (there are also prospective candidates lined up), which is a margin of 17.95%. There are higher margins in Newfoundland, but because of the rather unique situation that occurred in 2008, its not proper to use those numbers. Though, if we did, they'd have to overcome a 65.42% margin as their highest, in St. John's East. Hm.
So, in order for the Conservatives to reach for Charlottetown, they need a 9-point swing from Liberal to Conservative in the riding. That's more than the 7.5% swing they needed for Vaughan. So, clearly, with the right candidate, this isn't out of the question. If such a swing occurred in all Liberal-held ridings, let's just say that the Conservatives would easily get their majority. But, a 9-point swing is probably not going to occur in all ridings, so rest assured, that scenario of doom is unlikely. But, think of this way, folks: it took the Conservatives an extremely high-profile candidate against a low-profile Liberal candidate in order to win in the riding of Vaughan, and then they won it only just. Unless the Conservatives can do this same sort of magic in all their target ridings, including against incumbents, they have their work cut out for them. It will not be as easy as people expect. A 9-point swing might seem like nothing, but it's actually huge.
But, I digress; this post is about what ridings the Liberals should target. If we use the same criteria as the G&M article states (in other words, Charlottetown's 18-point margin), there are 54 ridings that I can find that fit the bill. 32 of them are Conservative, 12 are NDP, and 10 are Bloc. 28 of the 54 ridings are ridings we lost in 2008 (indeed, only one riding we lost in 2008 to the Conservatives, Richmond, fell out of range, while two others, Churchill and Nickel Belt, went NDP). That's enough to put us in a minority position, with 131 Liberals, 111 Conservatives, 25 NDP, and 39 Bloc. That's some nice pickins', right there.
However, as with the Conservatives, 9-point swings in all of these ridings is unlikely. This is setting our sights high, but so is the Conservatives aiming for Charlottetown. If we lower the bar a little, maybe we can get somewhere. What if we drop that down to 10%, or a 5-point swing, a relatively reasonable goal?
Here are the ridings we can grab on such a swing, well within reach:
Oak Ridges-Markham (0.57%)
Kitchener Centre (0.76%)
Saint John (1.42%)
Haute-Gaspesie--La Mitis--Matane--Matapedia (1.91%)
Jeanne-Le Ber (2.46%)
West Nova (3.79%)
London West (3.67%)
Saanich-Gulf Islands (4.07%)*
North Vancouver (4.89%)
Vancouver Kingsway (6.18%)
Thunder Bay-Rainy River (8.03%)
Thunder Bay-Superior North (8.69%)
Ottawa West-Nepean (8.86%)
Saint Lambert (9.12%)
As you can see, most of them are Conservative. Not hard catches, really. With these 35 ridings, the Liberals would bump themselves back up to a respectable position. These are certainly more feasible targets than Charlottetown and Mississauga East-Cooksville for the Conservatives, no? Where's my Globe and Mail editorial?
But seriously, these 35 are excellent ridings for us. In fact, we have candidates in most of them, including some with excellent candidates, including Martin Cauchon in Outremont, Anita Vandenbeld in Ottawa West-Nepean, Karen Mock in Thornhill, John Maloney in Welland, Bob Speller in Haldimand-Norfolk, Nancy Charest in Haute-Gaspesie, and so on. These are fantastic candidates in ridings clearly on the Liberal radar, yet I don't ever hear much mention of them in the media, who instead focus on some off-chance Conservative targets with no confirmed candidates! Pft.
Regardless, the Liberals have some low-hanging fruit as well. If the Conservatives seemingly set a target of 190 seats, then we can easily set a target of 130 using the same criteria. If we have a clear plan like that, then maybe we'll see some progress, and attention from the media.