Tories struggle in Toronto's Liberal strongholds
Updated Tue. Jan. 17 2006 6:13 AM ET
CTV.ca News Staff
Although the Conservatives may be leading the polls in much of the country, downtown Toronto is still proving to be a virtually impenetrable fortress for the blue wave.
While Conservatives are leading in national polls across the country, in the core of Toronto the numbers are swapped: Liberals are solidly in front with 40 per cent support. Conservatives are behind with 27 per cent, and the NDP is a strong third with 25 per cent support. The Greens trail with eight per cent. (See bottom of story for poll details.)
At stake are 23 ridings in Canada's largest city, and all but one is now in Liberal hands. Conservatives have been shut out of Toronto for the past four federal elections. Currently, NDP Leader Jack Layton holds the only non-Liberal seat in Toronto.
But the wide-open national race has Tories and New Democrats fighting hard to claim some of those ridings as their own.
Even popular, long-standing MPs such as Defence Minister Bill Graham are fighting desperately to hold onto their seats, braving the bitter cold to pound the pavement and shore up support with voters.
"My gut feeling with a week to go is it's going to be a hell of a fight," Graham told CTV.
And although the Conservatives are making inroads in Toronto, actually winning a seat would represent a seismic shift in voting trends.
"We haven't won a seat here in four elections in a row, but people are smiling and taking our literature and that's a big difference from a month ago," said an upbeat Lewis Reford, who is running against Graham in the Toronto Centre riding.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has certainly seen the value of campaigning in the city, and has made regular stops in the GTA.
"We're going to remind the Liberals that in Toronto the Maple Leafs are blue," Harper said during a recent campaign stop.
More likely, however, the New Democrats will be the party to weaken the Liberal stranglehold. If Toronto voters are planning to punish the Liberals and change loyalties, they are much more likely to send their vote towards the NDP than the Tories.
"They know the NDP is the alternative and is the better choice," said Olivia Chow, who is bidding for an NDP seat.
"We're just not finding the Conservatives are a factor in these ridings," said her husband, Jack Layton.
The Liberals have taken it for granted that they can expect a strong showing in Toronto, said Layton. "They viewed Toronto seats as one more entitlement, part of their culture of entitlement," Layton said.
Allan Gregg, managing partner with The Strategic Counsel, said there are four seats in Toronto that the Liberals could lose, but none of them is likely to fall into Tory hands.
Layton is doing his best to capitalize on the situation and take advantage of the Liberals' misfortune, said Gregg.
"So when Layton … focuses exclusively on the Liberals and ignores the prospect of a Conservative win, concedes a Conservative win, he's basically trying to pick the corpse of the Liberal party," Gregg said.
416 vs 905
Outside downtown Toronto, a ring of suburban communities known for its area code of 905 shows stronger support for the Conservatives.
The latest poll results show the race is tightening up slightly across Ontario with the Conservatives down two points to 38 per cent and the Liberals down just one point to 34 per cent.
In the Greater Toronto Area, which includes the downtown 416 ridings plus the suburban 905 ridings, the two lead parties are in a virtual tie. The Conservatives are unchanged at 37 per cent, while the Liberals dropped four points to 36 per cent, from a poll taken Jan. 11-14. The NDP has risen three points to 19 per cent and the Green Party is up one point to eight per cent.
Those numbers represent an incredible drop in voter support in the past few weeks, and since the last election, for the Liberals. In pre-Christmas polls, the party still had 50 per cent support, and in the 2004 election they captured 55 per cent of the vote in the GTA.
Technical notes on poll
Results are based on nightly tracking among a proportionate national sample of Canadians 18 years of age or older. Findings have been rolled up and analyzed over a three-day period. Interviews were conducted between Jan. 12, 14 and 15.
For the tracking poll, the sample size and margin of error (with the margin of error in brackets) for each region are as follows for the popularity and momentum questions:
Here are sample sizes for the Jan. 14-15 polling (margin of error in brackets):
Q. (party support) If the election was being held tomorrow, do you think you'd be supporting the (ROTATE LIST) Liberal candidate in your area, Conservative candidate in your area, the NDP candidate in your area, or the Green Party candidate in your area or (QUEBEC ONLY) Bloc Quebecois candidate in your area?
Q. (party support) In that case, which party's candidate in your local area would you be leaning towards at this time? Would it be the (ROTATE LIST) Liberal candidate in your area, Conservative candidate in your area, the NDP candidate in your area, or the Green Party candidate in your area or (QUEBEC ONLY) Bloc Quebecois candidate in your area?
To obtain a written copy of the poll, contact The Strategic Counsel, 21 St. Clair Ave. E., Ste. 2100, Toronto, ON, M4T 1L9.