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Beyond the Ballot: Federal Election 2019 Ontario

This is part of a series of regional updates by our cross-country team, who are in-jurisdiction experts regarding the on-the-ground dynamic of the Federal Election.

By: Andrew Retfalvi and Rhys Sandner


We wrap this week’s election updates by looking at Canada’s most populous province – and with more than a third of all federal ridings where federal elections are often decided: Ontario.

Ontario is a big area to cover at once, with many segmented voter bases for parties to court and account for, including:

  • Southwestern Ontario has significant union and industrial bases in Sarnia and Windsor;
  • A significant technology entrepreneur community has developed in and around the Kitchener-Waterloo area;
  • The Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area has six million residents alone and is home to some of the most progressive urban ridings in the country;
  • Central and Northern Ontario are largely rural, less-populated areas; and
  • Eastern Ontario is home to a significant public sector employment base in Ottawa.

Satisfying the needs and wants of these various constituencies at the same time is nothing short of impossible, so parties are likely to focus their efforts. For example – in 2015, the 905-area surrounding Toronto was the key to the Liberals securing a majority government; in 2011, it was the same area that delivered Stephen Harper’s Conservatives their majority government.

Below, we look at some of the key issues that campaigns are facing in Ontario in the weeks ahead as they race to the finish line.


The Ford Factor

After fifteen years of provincial Liberal governments, Ontarians resoundingly voted for change by electing Premier Doug Ford and his Ontario PCs with a sizable majority government – and change is what they have done. The PCs have moved to fight the federal carbon tax, unilaterally shrunk the size of Toronto City Council, made significant spending cuts, and battled the Trudeau government on most issues – many seen as polarizing among Ontario’s electorate. Acting as a polarizing character is nothing new for Doug Ford, and many of Ford’s decisions have been met with great protest. After a number of reversals on policy changes during a troubled first year that also saw Ford’s chief of staff exit under a cloud of controversy, Ford’s approval and popularity polls have dropped to among the lowest in the country.

Trudeau and the Liberals have taken full advantage of this from day one. From an off the cuff jab at Ford’s ‘For the People’ mantra in his first television ad to explicitly calling out Ontario’s health and education records under the Ford government, the Liberal campaign is looking to sow division among voters, and to rally those discontent with Ford. This discontent is only expected to grow in the weeks ahead, with Ford’s government set to manage potential strike actions by education workers.

The Conservatives are fully aware of the ‘Ford Factor’ – as a result, Ford has been largely silent on the campaign trail, and has not been actively campaigning for his federal counterparts like other premiers’ normally would.

Suburbs, suburbs, suburbs

Ontario’s suburban ridings are vote-rich, and success in these areas is crucial to winning in the province. Policies that appeal to these residents – regional transit commitments, family-focused tax credits and housing affordability, to name a few – are critical platform elements for any party focused on winning in Ontario. With the Tories running a middle-class-oriented platform focused on helping Canadians get ahead and the Liberals using a “Choose Forward’ mantra, both parties are hoping to catch the attention of voters in these suburban areas.

Housing and affordability

Building on the suburban angle, the GTA and Eastern Ontario have seen some of the highest increases in house prices in Canada over the last decade. With Ontario still experiencing significant population growth, all parties have pledged different policies to help first-time buyers and to manage housing demand. The Conservatives have promised to bring back 30-year mortgages and review the current mortgage ‘stress test’, while the Liberals pledged to review housing market speculation and to expand the government’s first-time homebuyer program; both have been criticized by their opponents for not doing enough to support the growing market.

Effect of a weaker NDP

The New Democrats currently hold eight seats in the province, and with the drop in support for the party, none of them can be considered safe by any stretch.  If the NDP can get a bounce in support in the final half of the campaign, it would change the landscape in three ways – ensuring their incumbents are re-elected, perhaps making some gains in urban ridings in the province, and the possibility of electing more Conservative MPs, if the vote splits on the left with the Liberals allow Tory candidates to come up the middle in many swing ridings.

Top ridings to watch 





Conservative Deputy Leader and former cabinet minister Lisa Raitt has represented Milton since 2008 and has a significant base of support in the riding. However, the Liberals are running their star candidate, former Olympian gold medalist rower Adam Van Koeverden. While Raitt won the riding with 55% support in 2015, the Liberal campaign has poured significant attention and resources into this riding and view it as a chance to defeat a significant leader among the Conservative caucus.



A key riding in the heart of the 905, Newmarket-Aurora will have a new face representing them in Ottawa after current Liberal MP Kyle Peterson announced that he wouldn’t be running again. In his place, two well-known local personalities are facing off: longtime Newmarket Mayor but first-time federal candidate Tony Van Bynen is flying the flag for the Liberals, while former two-MP Lois Brown is returning to run for the Conservatives after losing her seat to Liberal MP Kyle Peterson in 2015.


Another GTA suburb to watch for is Whitby. The eastern GTA riding made national headlines after former Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes resigned from the Liberal caucus, citing personal conflict over how she was treated in several exchanges with Prime Minister Trudeau. Todd McCarthy, a prominent local lawyer and colleague of former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, is running for the Conservatives, while social innovation consultant Ryan Turnball is running for the Liberals.


The final GTA suburban vote to watch closely is Markham-Stouffville. Jane Philpott’s well-publicized split with the Liberals over the SNC-Lavalin scandal – and subsequent decision to run as an independent – could cause a significant divide in the Liberal vote and allow for another contender to take the seat. While Philpott has a significant base in the community, it remains to be seen if she can win on reputation alone as an independent candidate. The Liberals have tapped former Liberal MPP and provincial health minister Helena Jaczek to run, while the Conservatives have selected local businessman Theodore Anthony as their candidate.



All eyes should be on Peterborough – Kawartha during the campaign. Often seen as a microcosm of Canada with rural, urban and industrial characteristics, Peterborough is a dependable bellwether riding. It has been won by whichever party has won nationally in every election since 1965. In this case, current Liberal MP and cabinet minister Maryam Monsef is being challenged by repeat Conservative candidate Mike Skinner.


In Eastern Ontario, the Liberals’ ability to win in suburbs will be tested in Nepean, in the south end of Ottawa. Currently held by Liberal MP and candidate Chandra Arya, the riding was held by the Conservatives from 2006 until 2015. If Arya fails to defeat Conservative challenger Brian St. Louis, it could show that Liberals are slipping in the key suburban demographic – a critical part of winning in Ontario.





Kanata-Carleton, another riding in Eastern Ontario, will test the strength of the Liberal brand. Current MP and former RCAF Lieutenant Colonel Karen McCrimmon faces successful entrepreneur and Conservative candidate Justina McCaffery. Kanata’s suburbs in the east end of Ottawa have traditionally been reliably conservative but flipped Liberal in 2015. As the most likely seat to revert to a Conservative MP in Eastern Ontario, McCrimmon must run a strong local campaign that leverages the Liberal brand to keep her seat.

Polling for Ontario

Courtesy of
(September 27, 2019)


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