Ontario's mystery ridings: Ten uncertain outcomes

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With the 2011 Ontario provincial election mere weeks away, all the major parties are honing their focus on the most competitive ridings in the province. While some of these battleground ridings are attracting attention from politicians and commentators alike, the following ridings are somehow slipping under radar, despite their potential Election Day interest.

Sudbury (Incumbent: Liberal -- Rick Bartolucci): Veteran Liberal MPP Rick Bartolucci could possibly be the only Grit representative left in northern Ontario, as soaring energy prices and perceived government indifference has sunk the governing Liberals in this region. The NDP is expected to benefit the most from the Liberal collapse in northern Ontario, and with the Grits and Tories locked in a tight race province-wide, ridings like Sudbury could provide the third largest party in the province with enough caucus members to hold the balance of power after Oct. 6. The NDP candidate Paul Loewenberg will still have a steep hill to climb as Bartolucci has held this riding since 1995, though if the Liberals are defeated here, they could be wiped out across the region.

St. Catherines (Incumbent: Liberal -- Jim Bradley): Another part of the province in which the Liberals are feeling the pressure is the Hamilton-Niagara region, the home turf of both NDP leader Andrea Horwath and PC leader Tim Hudak. However, incumbent Liberal MPP Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Jim Bradley has held this riding since the late 1970s, weathering the huge province-wide swings to the NDP and the PCs in the 1990s. Bradley will be in tough competition against strong NDP and PC candidates, indicating the vulnerability of even the most entrenched Liberal incumbents.

Glengarry-Prescott-Russell (Incumbent: Liberal -- Open): This Ottawa Valley riding with a large Franco-Ontarian population is traditionally a secure Liberal seat that has become very competitive as Premier McGuinty's popularity in the region has waned. With longtime MPP Jean Marc Lalonde retiring, the Liberals are putting forward North Glengarry mayor Grant Crack, who will face Progressive Conservative candidate Marilissa Gosselin and New Democratic Party hopeful Bonnie Jean-Louis. A Liberal-friendly seat, Glengarry-Prescott-Russell could signal a huge and dramatic shift of rural voters away from the Grits that could play out across the province.

Kingston and the Islands (Incumbent: Liberal -- John Gerretsen): Another reliable Liberal riding that is becoming increasingly competitive, Kingston and the Islands has been represented by Liberal MPP and Minister of Consumer Services John Gerretsen since 1995. This is a vulnerable seat, but divided opposition support amongst the PC and the NDP could allow the Liberals to squeeze through, much like federal Grit Ted Hsu accomplished in this past May's election. However, Kingston and the Islands could pave the way for a Progressive Conservative wave across the region, or provide a foothold for the NDP in Eastern Ontario.

Oakville (Incumbent: Liberal -- Kevin Flynn): An affluent GTA riding, Oakville is a straight two party race with Liberal MPP Kevin Flynn facing a tough contest against PC candidate Larry Scott. Flynn was first elected in 2003 improving by 17 per cent on his 1999 performance to flip this riding from the PCs, and won just under 50 per cent of the vote in his 2007 re-election bid. Oakville is expected to be a close race with the provincial Liberals attempting to defend their wealthier suburban seats amidst a fiery attack on the government's taxation policies.

Oshawa (Incumbent: Progressive Conservative -- Jerry Ouellette): Progressive Conservative MPP Jerry Ouellette will be in a tough race against prominent labour activist and NDP candidate Mike Shields in one of the GTA's most competitive ridings. Oshawa is the headquarters of GM Canada, insuring the health of the province's auto manufacturing sector will be the most pertinent issue in this campaign. The McGuinty government did contribute to the GM bailout and their focus on rebuilding the province's manufacturing sector could help the Liberals improve on their third place showing in 2007.

Barrie (Incumbent: Liberal -- Open): Liberal MPP Aileen Carroll's retirement and the steadily growing support for the federal Conservatives make this Central Ontario riding one of the PC's best pickup opportunities in this election. However, the McGuinty government's announcement of a new train for the Barrie GO Train station indicated that the Liberals were revving up their efforts to defend this seat. If the Liberals can manage to keep this seat in the fold, it will go a long way to solidifying the party's popularity in a region of the province in which their support is soft.

Ottawa-Orleans (Incumbent: Liberal -- Phil McNeely): This suburban Ottawa riding traditionally trends Liberal, however the federal Conservative Party has held this riding since 2006 and Liberal MPP McNeely is facing his stiffest electoral challenge since first being elected. Professor Andrew Lister will be carrying the banner for the Progressive Conservatives but is facing a challenge in a popular MPP in the Premier's hometown. The NDP has historically not been a factor and only recently nominated a candidate, which could benefit McNeely. The Liberal's traditional hold on the francophone vote will be tested in the largely French speaking Ottawa Orleans, which could play out in a host of Eastern Ontario ridings with sizeable Franco-Ontarian populations.

Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington (Incumbent: Progressive Conservative -- Randy Hillier): Randy Hillier's failed campaign to lead the Progressive Conservative party has increased the maverick MPP's political clout with grassroots conservatives across the province, yet he is still one of the party's most vulnerable incumbents. Hillier only narrowly bested his Liberal opponent by 924 votes in 2007 and is engulfed in a controversy over his unpaid back taxes that could allow Grit candidate Bill Macdonald to grab this riding.

Huron-Bruce (Incumbent: Liberal -- Carol Mitchell): Agriculture Minister Carol Mitchell is facing a strong opponent in Ontario Dairy Goat Cooperative general manager and PC candidate Lisa Thompson. Huron-Bruce is a swing riding that has chosen an MPP from the victorious party since the mid 1980s. As the provincial Liberals are losing ground with rural voters, Huron-Bruce is one of the party's best chances of maintaining a rural seat outside of eastern Ontario.

Marco Vigliotti is an Ottawa-based freelance journalist.


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