While the provincial election has gotten off to a slow start so far, what with the promised "big issues" campaign so far focusing on itty bitty quibbles like this libel lawsuit between Wynne and Hudak, Horwath's $12/hour minimum wage, and pretty much nothing else, the political landscape has started to form up really well. I figured with today's writ-drop, we might as well take a look at a few ridings-to-watch in this campaign. There's a lot of them, but I narrowed it down to the top 10.
A lot of this is based on my projection model for the election, but also what I can see the local situation playing out as. If you have disagreements or better ideas about the situation on the ground in these ridings, let me know. Otherwise, lets get down to it, in no particular objective order:
1. Etobicoke-Lakeshore: This lakeside Toronto riding was snatched from the Liberals following Laurel Broten's retirement last year by former Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, who barely squeaked by City Councillor Peter Milczyn with a 1,500-vote margin. June 12th will feature a rematch between these two former municipal allies, and it promises to be a good show. If the Liberals can win this back, then its a good sign that their all-important Toronto base is there with them, while Holyday winning here for the PCs will guarantee Hudak his much-needed Toronto presence and may hint at other wins in the city.
2. Brant: Speaker Dave Levac holds this riding currently for the Liberals, but he could very easily lose it in this election as its a riding everyone wants. The PCs came close in 2011, and have nominated former 80's-era PC MPP Phil Gillies as their candidate (Gillies, in more recent experience, helped spearhead the effort to ban shark fin products in Canada). The NDP also has a pretty good shot in Brant if they can sweep polls in Brantford, and have nominated professional organizer (yeah I don't know either, but she is successful) Alex Felsky as their candidate. If the Liberals hold on to this, its hard to say if its just Levac's star power or if the downward spiral they're facing in Southwestern Ontario isn't as serious as previously thought. If the NDP win it, then Horwath might well be on her way to forming a government.
3. Kitchener-Waterloo: This is another riding that fell in a by-election, except this time from PC to NDP. Incumbent Catherine Fife stole this riding pretty convincingly when former PC MPP Elizabeth Witmer resigned. Much of Fife's win came from lost Liberal support, though the PCs also faltered a fair amount, either through the lack of a serious GOTV effort or because of a more serious trend away from the PCs and towards the NDP in SWO towns. Fife will face her by-election opponent Tracy Weiler again, and it really could go either way - this is not a natural NDP riding, however once you have an incumbent in there, it could easily shift. The PCs will really want this riding back. The Liberal's Jamie Burton, meanwhile, could play a spoiler role for either party as his numbers are expected to increase from the party's by-election disaster.
4. Ottawa West-Nepean: If you want a riding to keep your eyes
peeled to throughout election night, OW-N is it. This riding will
feature three big names go at it for the honour of representing the
riding: Minister of Energy and former Ottawa Mayor Bob Chiarelli; Ottawa
Citizen columnist Randall Denley (who faced Chiarelli in 2011) for the
PCs; and former MPP, mayoral candidate, and current councillor Alex
Cullen for the NDP. This riding promises to be a brutal fight for all three parties, and really any of them could win though the riding is not necessarily a NDP-friendly one.
5. Northumberland-Quinte West: This is another rematch riding (there is a lot of those this election), featuring incumbent PC MPP Rob Milligan squaring off against the incumbent he defeated in 2011, Liberal Lou Rinaldi. Milligan is expected to have a good fight on his hands as the Liberals will be pouring resources to paint this riding red again, and they have a good chance to. Rinaldi is easily more experienced and is potential cabinet material, while Milligan really only has the general trend working in his favour (he could be a really nice guy too, I don't know). However, the hill is clearly Rinaldi's to climb, and if he does in this riding back for the Liberals, I think it will overall be a really good night for them.
6. Scarborough-Rouge River: This eastern Toronto riding has one of the highest number of visible minorities residing anywhere in Canada (just under 90% according to the 2006 census, but it could have changed by now), and you think would normally be a strong lock for the Liberals and their incumbent, Bas Balkissoon. However in 2011, Balkissoon was almost knocked off by Neethan Shan of the NDP, a Tamil-Canadian and former school board trustee who was hoping to repeat Rathika Sitsabaiesan's success in the 2011 federal election. Shan is back for Round 2, and could very easily upset Balkissoon - however, there's a twist. Current Ward 42 Councillor Raymond Cho, who has some history with Balkissoon (the Liberal nomination during the 2007 by-election which elected Balkissoon was, let's say, not conducted well) and Shan (he faced him in his 2010 re-election bid in Ward 42) will be running for the PCs. This is going to be a very contentious riding that could go any which way.
7. Sudbury: I'm unsure whether to put this riding here, because thanks to the loss of their incumbent, Rick Bartolucci, the Liberals look to have a tough hill to climb here versus the NDP, who are constantly biting at their heels in this riding. However the Liberals have not held on to Sudbury simply because of Bartolucci, and their is a lot of residual support here for them. Goodies in the budget for unions and the city, the promotion of the "Ring of Fire" up north, and a good candidate (right now there is a nomination battle between Andrew Olivier and Elise Indani, to be settled May 8th) could keep the Liberals in the race here... but don't expect miracles. The NDP candidate is Joe Cimino, and his party will be eager to help his campaign as much as possible.
8. Peterborough: This riding is currently held by Minister of
Rural Affairs Jeff Leal and will be an important hold for the Liberals,
as its one of the few ruralish ridings the party holds or even has a
shot in. The PCs knocked Leal down below 40% in 2011, but a strong
presence from then-NDP candidate Dave Nickle (who isn't running this
time) probably held them back a bit. Leal will face off against the PC's
Scott Stewart, a local travel group president, and the NDP's Sheila
Wood, a small business owner and community activist, so he has the
experience and incumbent advantage, but that might not be enough.
However, I personally feel the NDP will be less of a factor this time
around, so that will shake things up.
9. Brampton-Springdale: This is another riding put into serious contention thanks to the resignation of its incumbent. Linda Jeffrey, formerly Ontario's Municipal Affairs Minister, despite being the nominated candidate decided to jump into the mayoral race for Brampton versus incumbent Susan Fennell. That leaves this traditionally Liberal riding with its high immigration population in a contentious limbo, as the Liberals have yet to nominate a candidate (I'm not even sure who is running), while the PC's Pam Hundal and the NDP's Gurpreet Dhillion have high hopes. Hundal is the biggest challenge for the Liberals, while Dhillion is hoping his next-door success story, NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh, will show the normally Dipper-hostile Bramptonians that they can be served effectively by his party. Until we see who the Liberal candidate is, there isn't much more to say except that I hope they're ready for a fight.
10. Kitchener Centre: Like its neighbour Brant, this urban riding promises to be a fairly interesting fight, as its incumbent MPP John Milloy won't be running for the Liberals again. Also like in its neighbour, the PCs are following the school of "oldies are goodies," bringing back former MPP Wayne Wettlaufer to run in this election. The Liberals have nominated former local CTV host Daiene Vernile, who will face an uphill battle to retain support in this riding which is constantly in contention between the two parties, federally and provincially. The NDP could also play a spoiler role here, and if they get their support high enough across the province, actually win here, but that's more of a hypothetical than reality at this point.
There are a lot more than just these ten, but I figured this a good start. I would also keep an eye on Burlington, and not just because its my riding - it will feature incumbent MPP Jane McKenna versus Share the Road Cycling Coalition CEO Eleanor McMahon, who is getting a lot of support from Wynne and should be a close fight; the two Thunder Bay ridings, featuring two incumbent Liberal MPPs fighting a tide directed against them, will also be interesting; Niagara Falls also promises to be a really good rematch between MPP Wayne Gates and former MPP Bart Maves (oldies are goodies!), who Gates defeated in the by-election last year.
Like I said, if you have any other suggestions or ideas, criticisms or threats, feel free to comment below.