The safest bet for a Tory seat in the region is no longer so safe, as the latest poll numbers have the race in Kitchener-Conestoga too close to call. The difference between PC candidate Mike Harris and the NDP’s Kelly Dick is less than three percentage points.
That’s similar to the tight race in the Kitchener South and Cambridge ridings. The NDP lead in Kitchener Centre and are expected to retain their current seat in Waterloo, according to analyses done by the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy (LISPOP).
The upsurge in NDP support is indicative of a province-wide trend that has seen the Progressive Conservatives start to wane, says Barry Kay, a political science professor at Wilfrid Laurier University.
Well ahead in the polls for months, the Progressive Conservatives have been losing ground in the wake of Patrick Brown being forced out as leader and replaced by a divisive Doug Ford. NDP leader Andrea Horwath has been the recipient of much of the opposition vote against the massively unpopular Liberal government.
Had the Tories gone with Christine Elliott as the choice of new leader, the party would be on its way to a majority, Kay predicted.
“If Elliott was the leader, they would be home safe,” he said, noting the PCs were on track for a win as recently as a couple of weeks ago.
The shift in Conservative fortunes is mirrored in the tight races in Waterloo Region, where even Kitchener-Conestoga is in play for the NDP, which has traditionally finished a very distant third. The numbers here this time around may reflect some local issues with the way popular MPP Michael Harris was ousted from caucus and the son of former premier Mike Harris parachuted into the riding, Kay suggested.
That doesn’t bode well for the Ford-led party.
“If Conestoga is close, then the PCs aren’t safe anywhere in the region,” said Kay.
Kathleen Wynne, meanwhile, is in Kim Campbell territory, with some polls having the Liberals reduced to just a few seats, the party’s popularity plummeting to the depths of the Mulroney-era federal Conservatives.
“In our last forecast, we had them at 12 seats. I suspect new poll numbers will have them in single digits, perhaps very low single digits,” he said this week.
That’s probably not good news for Liberal candidate Joe Gowing, who is trailing Harris and Dick. Three other hopefuls are part of the race: Daniel Benoy (Libertarian), Dan Holt (Consensus Ontario) and Bob Jonkman (Green).
“Although recent opinion polls show a clear trend toward the NDP and away from the PCs, most of the results are close. Conceivably, the NDP could win the popular vote, yet finish behind the Tories in seats. That’s largely because party support is unevenly distributed across the province. And if the Liberals retain enough of their strength in the GTA and southwestern Ontario – as they may – the result could be the election of Conservatives in places that would otherwise go NDP,” writes Geoffrey Stevens on the LISPOP blog tracking shifts in the electorate’s mood.