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In Ontario, concerns centered around the COVID-19 pandemic remain. The Delta variant has induced a rise in provincial case numbers and prompted the notion of government-mandated vaccinations and vaccine passports to gain traction.

Moreover, the public has grown concerned over the pandemic’s recovery. With many sectors having yet to bounce back due to limitations on gathering sizes, constraints on travel, and overall hesitancy, the majority of working Ontarians have yet to see their income match pre-pandemic levels. This reduction in income is met with one of the nation’s toughest housing markets (seeing the average home sell for around $835,269 across the province and $1,016,580 in Toronto), and a rapidly increasing cost of living. The people of Ontario, particularly members of the middle-class, small business owners, and youth are looking to this election for answers to the issues of affordability.

Without question, the Prime Minister’s quest for a majority government runs squarely through Ontario. The Liberals will not only need to hold on to the seats they have—but flip a handful in the province with the hope of doing the same in British Columbia, Quebec and elsewhere. Mr. O’Toole’s own 905 roots will be tested in the process. The party’s platform was designed in part to connect with families living in and around the Greater Toronto Area. Can he hang on to his 34 seats in the province? This question alone may tell the story of the 2021 election and the composition of the next federal parliament.

Seat distribution

  • Liberal: 76
  • Conservative: 34
  • New Democratic: 6
  • Independent: 4
  • Vacant: 1

5 ridings to watch

Before listing the 5 key ridings, we need to highlight that the 31 seats in the 905 region surrounding Toronto will be a key difference between a majority or minority government. In 2019, the Liberal Party won 23 seats with the Conservative Party winning 8.

1. Windsor West

  • Incumbent: Brian Masse (NDP)
  • Primary challenger: Sandra Pupatello (LPC)
  • Character: Urban/Suburban

The 2021 election sees the rematch between nineteen-year NDP incumbent, Brian Masse, and former provincial cabinet minister and Ontario Liberal leadership runner-up, Sandra Pupatello. The two fought a close race in 2019, with Masse winning by less than 2,000 votes, and Pupatello obtaining the largest Liberal vote share in 21 years (when the party last represented the riding). As the Liberals tend to draw their votes from urban Canada, this Southern Ontario city depicts an important pickup.

2. Toronto Centre

  • Incumbent: Marci Ien (LPC)
  • Primary challenger: Annamie Paul (GPC)
  • Character: Urban

Following the resignation of former Finance Minister, Bill Morneau, Toronto Centre was one of two Toronto ridings that held a by-election in 2020. Marci Ien is a newly elected incumbent MP. Annamie Paul is the new Green Party of Canada leader, who won 32.7% of the vote in the 2020 by-election. There has been recent controversy around her leadership of the party and a strong showing is required for her ongoing leadership of the GPC. In addition, this riding’s outcome is crucial to the Liberal Party and their hopes for a majority government.

3. Ottawa Centre

  • Incumbent: Catherine McKenna (LPC) (not running)
  • Primary challengers: Yasir Naqvi (LPC) and Angella MacEwen (NDP)
  • Character: Urban

Canada’s current Minister of Infrastructure and Communities announced in June 2021 that she would not be seeking re-election. Ontario’s former Attorney General, Yasir Naqvi, is the LPC candidate for the riding. Catherine McKenna had held this seat since the 2015 election. With Mr. Naqvi’s affiliation with the former provincial Wynne administration and MacEwen’s strong union ties this battle will be one to watch to see if voters will keep the riding in the Liberal fold.

4. Whitby

  • Incumbent: Ryan Turnbull (LPC)
  • Primary challenger: Maleeha Shahid (CPC)
  • Character: Suburban/rural

Whitby has always been a strong Conservative riding, with links to the late Jim Flaherty both provincially and federally. With an Liberal incumbent federally, but a Conservative MPP provincially—it will be worth noting how this riding chooses to vote.

5. Davenport

  • Incumbent: Julie Dzerowicz (LPC)
  • Primary challenger: Alejandra Bravo (NDP)
  • Character: Urban

The Toronto riding of Davenport has long been targeted by the NDP. In 2019, the district was labeled a tossup by many pollsters, and ultimately Jagmeet Singh’s New Democrats lost within the margin of error (repeating the same results as 2015). The riding has gone historically liberal and has only been represented by one NDP MP after the 2011 election. However, this time around, the NDP are hoping to capitalize off the success of provincial NDP MPP, Marit Stiles. Stiles has not only gained popularity in the riding since the 2018 win, but there are also rumors that she could become the future leader of the party.

Wild cards

Voter turnout: Are voters motivated to turn out? Will the parties be able to mobilize their youth vote?

Vaccination and COVID-19 precautions: Will leaders be punished by media and the public for forgoing or not adhering to strict COVID-19 precautions? Will party vaccination regulations and outlook on mandatory vaccines and passports have an impact?

Consult our 2021 Federal Election section to get the latest perspectives from our experts.

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