The 2011 Ontario provincial election is less than a month away, and according to recent public opinion polls, this race could be the province's closest in the past 20 years.
The Liberals face stiff opposition from the Progressive Conservatives (PC) and the New Democratic Party (NDP) in their quest for a third consecutive majority government. Many commentators and pollsters note that numerous ridings are at play with the following 10 expected to be the most competitive.
Ottawa West Nepean (Incumbent: Bob Chiarelli -- Liberal): Liberal MPP and former Ottawa mayor Bob Chiarelli is facing a stiff re-election fight in one of the city's most competitive swing ridings. The PCs shocked many by nominating Ottawa Citizen columnist and frequent Hudak critic Randall Denley in their bid to oust Chiarelli. A suburban riding with a federal Conservative MP, Ottawa West Nepean is one of the brightest opportunities for a Tory pickup in Ottawa. However a strong Liberal incumbent, the premier's popularity in his hometown and historically non-existent support for the NDP will cloud any sunny prospects for the Progressive Conservatives.
Niagara Falls (Incumbent: Kim Craitor -- Liberal): The Niagara region will be one of the most competitive on October 6 as all of the three major parties have significant footholds in the area. The region's healthcare system is poised to be a huge issue after the province took control of six hospitals amidst the breakout of the C. difficile superbug that killed 31 patients. While PC candidate George Lepp appears to be Liberal MPP Kim Craitor's toughest electoral challenge, the NDP is putting forth a strong candidate in former Fort Erie mayor Wayne Redekop.
Etobicoke-Lakeshore (Incumbent: Laurel Broten -- Liberal): Etobicoke-Lakeshore is one of the PC's best opportunities to breakthrough in Toronto, as it is the preeminent swing riding. In fact, Etobicoke-Lakeshore has elected an MPP of the winning party in every election since 1990. Liberal MPP Laurel Broten is the Minister of Children and Youth Services and will be difficult to knock off. Yet, her role as cabinet minister, especially her former position as environment minister will certainly tie her hopes to the polarizing premier. PC candidate businessman Simon Nyilassy is a strong challenger with an impressive business background, however NDP candidate Dionne Colley may benefit from the outpouring of goodwill in the city following the passing of federal leader Jack Layton.
York-Centre (Incumbent: Monte Kwinter -- Liberal): York-Centre is a prime pickup opportunity for the PCs, however, incumbent Liberal MPP Monte Kwinter is a proven candidate that has never lost an election since winning entry into the legislature in 1985. Kwinter ably manoeuvered a challenging re-election bid in 2007 despite the popularity in his riding, in which 20 per cent voters are Jewish, of then-PC leader John Tory's pledge to extend funding to religious schools of all denominations. The popularity of Kwinter will be difficult for PC candidate Michael Mostyn to overcome but the PCs have been steadily gaining support and Conservative MP Mark Adler did grab this riding in May's federal election.
Ottawa Centre (Incumbent: Yasir Naqvi -- Liberal): This downtown Ottawa riding has alternated between the Liberals and the NDP since its inception and is consistently one of the most competitive in the city. MPP Yasir Naqvi is possibly the most vulnerable Liberal incumbent in Ottawa with this riding swinging decisively towards the NDP in the May federal election. NDP candidate, community organizer Anil Naidoo is hoping to capitalize on the federal party's success and election infrastructure to bring Ottawa-Centre back into the party's fold for the first time since Bob Rae's premiership.
Thunder Bay-Superior North (Incumbent: Michael Gravelle -- Liberal): Northern Ontario offers some of the most lucrative pickup opportunities for the NDP with Thunder Bay-Superior North among the most hotly contested. Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry Michael Gravelle is one of the most vulnerable cabinet members in the McGuinty ministry, with the Liberals' perceived neglect for the region severely eroding their support. However, Gravelle may benefit from facing off against an unknown quantity in rookie NDP candidate Steve Mantis, though the PCs nominated a surprisingly strong candidate in former Research in Motion executive Anthony Leblanc.
Bramlea-Gore-Malton (Incumbent: Liberal -- Kuldip Kular): This traditionally Liberal riding is a major target of the PC's strategy to breakthrough in the Greater Toronto Area. A diverse riding with a large Indo-Canadian community, Bramlea-Gore-Malton will be a test of all of the major parties' ethnic outreach programs. The governing Liberals have been courting the community evidenced by the provincial government's role in bringing the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) ceremonies to Toronto this past summer. However, both PC candidate Punjabi businessman Sanjeev Maingi and NDP candidate Jagmeet Singh, who ran in the federal election and came within 600 votes of grabbing the seat, will provide stiff competition for incumbent Liberal MPP Kuldip Kular.
Davenport (Incumbent: Liberal -- Open): Another downtown Toronto riding that decidedly swung from the Liberals to the NDP in May's federal election, Davenport is shaping up as one of the NDP's best opportunities in the city. Businesswoman Cristina Martins will be the Liberal standard bearer trying to succeed retiring MPP Tony Rupchert. Her top competition will be NDP candidate Jonah Schein, who attracted considerable attention in his failed city council bid in 2010.
London-Fanshawe (Incumbent: Liberal -- Khalil Ramal): Incumbent Liberal MPP Khalil Ramal bested his nearest opponent by over 4,000 votes in a close three-way race in 2007. However, the Liberals will be in tough in London, which boasts the highest unemployment rate of a major city in the nation. The NDP and PC have strong support in the region and could both plausibly grab this seat from the Grits.
Eglinton-Lawrence (Incumbent: Liberal-Mike Colle): Former federal Liberal Party national director Rocco Rossi is the star Progressive Conservative candidate and incumbent Liberal MPP Mike Colle's toughest rival in this affluent Toronto riding. Colle has represented this riding since 1999, though garnering a smaller share of the vote in each subsequent election. Rossi faces an uphill battle according to a riding poll released in early August that put the former mayoral hopeful 18 points behind Colle.
Marco Vigliotti is an Ottawa-based freelance journalist.