For the Conservatives to win this election, analysts say they’ll have to make significant inroads in the Greater Toronto Area, a vote-rich ring of suburban communities surrounding Toronto that the party was largely shut out of in the last federal election.
Oakville, Ont., resident Nicole Lauermeier has considered herself a political centrist who supported Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in the 2019 election and has since been a fan of the riding’s member of Parliament Anita Anand.
But in this year’s advanced polling, the small business owner who said she’s never voted Conservative decided to put an X beside the name of Kerry Colborne, the Tory party’s candidate.
“Here’s to a Blue wave,” she said.
The number one reason Lauermeier decided to support the Conservatives this time out was “the audacity of calling an election” when all three parties worked together throughout the pandemic. “It’s just unconscionable.”
Her vote could offer some hope for the Conservatives, who are desperately seeking to win this riding in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), a vote-rich ring of suburban communities the party was largely shut out of in the last federal election.
Oakville is one of a handful of ridings in the region where polling suggests a dead heat between the Liberals and Conservatives, and where the Tories could rise or fall on election night.
Tories eye seats around Toronto
For the Conservatives to win this election “they really do have to pick up a number of seats in the GTA, many of them that the Harper government and Mr. Harper held when he was in power,” said analyst David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data.
While the Liberals are considered strong in Toronto itself, it’s the surrounding cities the Tories will be eyeing come election night. Polls suggest there are at least eight toss-up ridings just outside of Toronto.
In 2019, the Tories failed to break through in the region, and in the end, the Liberals took every seat in Toronto and all but five of 29 seats in the surrounding suburbs.
“It seemed like winning in the GTA was the thing that the Conservatives needed to do, but it was kind of unlikely,” said analyst Éric Grenier.
Now, he says, “there’s actually legitimate chances that the Conservatives can pick up some seats in the GTA. And if they do that, then that kind of whittles away the Liberal plurality.”
The Tories have been generally stronger in regions just north and east of Toronto, Grenier said, and the block of northern seats, like Richmond Hill and Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill, are key.
But he noted that Oakville, along with Oakville-North Burlington, are also important for the Tories.
Trudeau himself visited Oakville last weekend, a signal perhaps that the Liberals feel the riding is in play this election.
Last election, it was won by Anand by close to 5,000 votes. She is also the minister of public services and procurement — the office that led the charge of acquiring the COVID-19 vaccines.
Election call worries Liberal supporters
But it’s Trudeau’s controversial election call that has some Oakville Liberal supporters concerned.
“I’m really worried that people are a lot angrier than they’re saying about this,” said Gian Egger, a retired pediatrician who lives in Anand’s neighbourhood and is a Liberal supporter.
“I think a lot of people are upset about why this [election] was called, when it was called and it’s seen as pure opportunistic.”
It’s difficult to know how much that anger will impact Liberal support or whether voters, particularly in the GTA, will be focused on other priorities.
While there are certainly distinct differences within the GTA, many voters who live in these suburban bedroom communities share similar concerns, Coletto said. Those include the cost of living around Toronto, the price of housing, child care and the health-care system having capacity to handle growth in the region.
Coletto suggests that’s likely why this year’s election campaigns have dealt with issues that resonate with GTA voters and usually feature broad plans to deal with them.
“If you look at the party platforms from just a pocketbook perspective, they are speaking to the GTA as much as they are in any other region.”
Housing affordability key issue
Richmond Hill resident Grace Jo’s number one priority is housing. She said she and her partner, both 30, have been married for four years and live in a townhouse. They want to move to a detached house that’s near transit, but they’re just too expensive.
So far, Jo is undecided about who she’ll vote for, all the more significant in a riding that was won by just 112 votes in 2019 — the narrowest margin across the GTA.
“It’s a struggle for a lot of younger people,” she said.
Both Trudeau and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole have swung by the riding, where incumbent Liberal candidate Majid Jowhari is trying to fend off Conservative Costas Menagakis, who held the seat from 2011 through 2015 but lost by the slimmest margin of votes in 2019.
“If the Conservatives are picking up a seat like Richmond Hill, that probably means they can win some seats north of the city,” Grenier said.
The Tories have the support of Charles Chee, a 63-year-old Richmond Hill resident who works in the pharmaceutical industry. Chee said abortion is an important issue for him, and while O’Toole is pro-choice, the party, as a whole is more “pro-life” than the Liberals.
Chee had proudly staked a Conservative Menagakis campaign sign in his front yard, a move that has drawn some good natured ribbing from Susanne Eden, his Liberal-supporting neighbour across the street.
“Has it convinced you?” he asked.
“Noooo,” she said. “At least it’s turned the other way, not facing me.”
Frustration with Trudeau
But Eden’s own front yard is unusually bare this election campaign.
“This is the first time in my memory that I haven’t had a sign up.”
The retired university professor said it’s because of her anger with Trudeau. “He doesn’t have that sincerity that I looked for in him that I thought he would bring.”
Eden, who turns 83 next month, said she’ll still vote for the Liberals, but she’s also upset about the election call.
“To me, it just smacked of him and his arrogance.”
The Tories are a “party of people without that balance of social justice,” she said. “I’m very much the old bleeding heart.”
But along with Oakville, Richmond Hill and other toss-up ridings, Grenier said the Tories need to gain traction in Mississauga and Brampton ridings, which have as many seats as Nova Scotia and are currently all under the Liberal flag.
“If the Liberals are still able to hold on to the Bramptons, the Mississaugas, it’s very hard to see the Conservatives building up a big seat lead.”