Liberals have slight edge over Tories in close race in battleground Ontario

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TORONTO — The Liberals are leading in key Toronto-area ridings in a province that could make or break electoral hopes with nearly one-third of the country’s seats.

With results just starting to trickle in after polls closed at 9:30 p.m., the Liberals so far appear poised to grab more seats in the province than the Tories.

The NDP was leading in five ridings, including in some northern Ontario seats that the Liberals had won in 2015.

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Ontario, and in particular the suburbs of the Greater Toronto Area, played host to the leaders of the three major parties far more than any other region.

The so-called 905 area ringing Toronto and southwestern Ontario is home to several swing ridings that were considered up for grabs  — and key to victory.

The province’s leader was a central focus for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s re-election campaign, as he constantly name-dropped Premier Doug Ford, invoking the spectre of “doubling down” on Conservative governments and cuts.

He attempted to tie Ford to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer like an anchor to sink Tory prospects in the province that holds nearly a third of the country’s seats.

Scheer and Ford themselves took massive pains to avoid helping voters make that connection. Scheer nearly managed to make it through the campaign without even saying Ford’s name, and the Tories dispatched Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to stump for Conservative votes in Ontario, including on Ford’s own turf. Ford kept an extremely low profile, making few public appearances and avoiding questions from reporters except on two occasions in northern Ontario.

Ford’s Progressive Conservatives won a majority government last summer on the strength of a campaign replete with populist promises but also an electorate eager for change following 15 years of Liberal governments.

Since then, however, Ford’s popularity has tanked, thanks in part to a wide range of cuts in his first budget and a variety of patronage scandals.

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Trudeau was trying to entice voters who helped elect Ford in 2018 and may now be regretting that choice — polling suggests that may be 10 to 15 per cent of last year’s Tory voters — and scare left-leaning voters into coalescing around the Liberals.

“The NDP wasn’t able to stop Doug Ford,” Trudeau said. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2019.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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