On Day One of the Canadian federal election, it was interesting to note the leaders of all four major parties spent at least part of their day in Quebec:
• Stephen Harper made scenic Quebec City his first stop after triggering the election this morning at Rideau Hall:
• Jack Layton launched his campaign in Gatineau, but mostly for the Ontario-based backdrop:
• Stéphane Dion addressed a rally in Ottawa, and then headed to Montreal in the campaign bus that will serve as his main transportation until that Air Inuit plane is ready (echenblog exclusive photos below):
• and Gilles Duceppe… well… he only campaigns in Quebec, doesn’t he?
But Quebec is where the action is this election. It’s where polls are showing the best prospects for Conservative Party growth in that party’s search for an elusive majority, where the Bloc Québecois is polling some of the worst numbers in its history, where the Liberals were reduced to a core rump of seats – mostly in English-speaking Montreal – last time ’round, and where the NDP made a historic breakthrough by capturing Outremont in a recent byelection.
The main question is… how many seats can the Conservatives take from the Bloc?
At the end of the recently deceased Parliament, the Bloc had 48 seats, all but seven of them off of the Island of Montreal. In addition, there were three other non-Montreal Quebec seats that were vacant or held by independent MPs.
Taking Montreal – where Bloc losses do not necessarily mean Tory gains (as opposed to outside Montreal, where they most likely do) – off the table, that’s a pool of 44 Quebec seats the Tories have a shot at picking up from a collapsing Bloc. There’s yer majority. There’s nowhere else in the country with as many concentrated ridings that are potential Conservative gains. It will likely be the Bloc’s performance in those ridings that determines whether or not minority government continues in this country.
No wonder Gilles Duceppe is already playing this card.
Ontario also has some possibilities for the Conservatives, none as promising as suburban and rural Quebec.
Here’s a top-of-head take on Conservative prospects for growth in Ontario:
Eastern Ontario: Little room for growth. Most of the ridings in this region are already held by the Conservatives, except for several ridings in central and east-end Ottawa and in Kingston, where they aren’t usually competitive. The Liberals also have a couple of notable candidates who may have shots of winning back ridings they lost to the Tories last time around – former cabinet minister David Pratt, who is taking on current cabinet minister John Baird in Ottawa West – Nepean, and Dan Boudria, who is trying to win back the Glengarry-Prescott-Russell riding that his father Don held for many years.
Central Ontario: Also little room for growth. Last time around, the region was painted Tory blue from Haliburton to Parry Sound down to all of Durham and York regions. They’d like to take back Belinda Stronach’s seat, but they could also lose a couple that were tight races last time around (for example, Landslide Tony Clement’s and Oshawa)
Northern Ontario: Few prospects. This is traditionally a region where the Liberals battle the NDP, while the Tories sit on the sidelines.
Toronto: If the Tories breach the Liberal fortress of Toronto in any significant way, then we can be pretty sure it is a sign of a massive nationwide Liberal collapse, and the question is not whether or not the Tories can win a majority, but rather how big that majority will be.
905 West: This is the only region where the governing party may have some potential to pick up a “concentrated” handful of seats – but barring a massive Liberal collapse (see above) it’s probably only a handful – maybe four or five – in the Brampton-Mississauga area. They may take back Garth Turner’s riding. But the Liberals could take back Wajid Khan’s and St. Catherines. A Conservative breakthrough in this multicultural area may be a sign that the party’s efforts to woo the so-called “ethnic vote” has been a success, but… we’ll see. There probably aren’t enough potential pickups here to put them into majority territory.
Southwestern Ontario: After being shut-out in this region throughout the divided-Right Chrétien years, the Conservatives regained all of their traditional strongholds here in the last two elections. The ridings that didn’t go Tory are some urban ones in Kitchener-Waterloo, London, and Windsor. Notably, Green Party leader Elizabeth May launched her campaign in Guelph. Could the Green vote split the left in some of these ridings? Maybe, but again, there aren’t a lot of seats left here that the Tories could reasonably pick up.
All that being said, recent polls have picked up on a growing Tory popularity in Ontario, but those polls aren’t specific enough to know whether Harper has gained support in Ontario by firing up his base – which wouldn’t gain him too many seats – or by reaching out successfully to traditional Liberal constituencies – which would.
As for the rest of the country? To be continued…