Tories see glory in Toronto’s 905 region

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Sun Media, Friday, January 7, 2011

The 905 belt is generally regarded as the bedroom communities in the suburban semi-circle around Toronto.

But in terms of the Ontario electoral map it’s much bigger, running from Welland and the Niagara Peninsula in southern Ontario, all the way to Oshawa, east of Toronto.

It’s not just the Greater Toronto Area, but the Golden Horseshoe, from Niagara to Durham Township.

Altogether there are 30 ridings in the 905 electoral zone. With Julian Fantino’s victory in the Vaughan byelection the Conservatives hold 15 of them. The other 15, mostly Liberal strongholds with a sprinkling of NDP seats, are all in play.

So it’s very simple — the road to a Tory majority now runs through the 905.

With 143 seats in the current House of Commons, the Tories are within striking distance of majority territory — 155. Where they once thought they could grow to majority status in Quebec, where they hold 11 out of 75 seats, Ontario holds much more potential. With 51 seats out of 106 seats in Ontario, the Conservatives have room to grow, especially in the suburban 905 cluster around Toronto.

Consider: With Tuesday’s mini-shuffle there are now seven members of Cabinet from the 905, or two more ministers from one Ontario region than there are from the Tory heartland of Alberta, including the prime minister himself. For that matter there are two more ministers from the 905 than there are from Quebec.

And not insignificant ministers, either. The 905 cabinet members include the finance minister, Jim Flaherty; the justice minister, Rob Nicholson; the trade minister, Peter Van Loan; the new environment minister, Peter Kent, as well as Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, international development minister Bev Oda and Fantino, the new minister for seniors, a core Conservative constituency.

Conservatives see at least half a dozen potential gains in 905, from Welland in the south, to Ajax-Pickering next door to Flaherty’s stronghold of Whitby-Oshawa, where they have a star candidate in Chris Alexander, the former ambassador to Afghanistan, already running hard against Liberal incumbent Mark Holland.

In what may be delusional moments, the Conservatives even see themselves breaking into 416 — the impregnable Liberal fortress of Toronto, where the Tories haven’t won a single seat since the 1988 election. One senior Ontario minister Thursday riffed the names of six 416 ridings where the Conservatives expect to be very competitive.

It’s not a coincidence that Stephen Harper will be spending part of Friday in Welland, “participating in a tour,” his office announced, of the Wellington Community Wellness Complex, followed by a noontime announcement at the local Lions Club. On the retail side of politics, it doesn’t get more down to earth than that.

Harper is in Welland because the NDP incumbent, Malcolm Allen, won the riding with 32.9% of the vote over the Conservative candidate, with 32.3%, in the 2008 election, with the Liberals also competitive in a three-way race.

You can expect to see Harper in a lot of competitive 905 ridings while the House is recessed until the end of January, and in every parliamentary break between now and the election. Harper is scheduled to participate in several events on Flaherty’s listening tour leading up to the budget, now expected in early March.

And where would the listening tour be headed? Right to 905 land.

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