The close calls: Here are the ridings that could have a photo finish on election night

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As politicians cross the country to try to win over the hearts and minds of Canadians, the polls have been predicting a tight election outcome as Liberals and Conservatives sit neck and neck with one another.

At times like this, every seat counts — and some of those seats can be decided by just a handful of votes.

“The truth is, election campaigns in Canada are not decided by who wins the popular vote. They’re decided by who wins seats,” said Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos.

“So swing ridings, ridings that are really up for grabs and competitive, are the most important thing to understand.”

Less than 500 votes decided the outcome of multiple ridings in 2019, securing a minority government for the Liberals. With Sept. 20 just around the corner, these the ridings that you’ll want to watch closely come election night.

Located within the boundaries of historic Quebec City, the riding of Quebec is currently held by Liberal cabinet minister Jean-Yves Duclos, who is seeking re-election.

But he’s got a tight race ahead of him. Just 215 votes separated him and the Bloc Quebecois candidate Christiane Gagnon in the 2019 federal election — and the tight polling shows that the 2021 outcome could be swayed by just a handful of votes.

Bricker speculated that Duclos was made a cabinet minister in part because his riding is one that the Liberals “can’t afford to lose.”

“So definitely a riding to watch on an election night,” he said.

In order to flip this seat, the Conservatives would have to have made a lot of gains since the 2019 federal election. The Conservative candidate trailed Duclos by just shy of 10,000 votes in the last election.

The Bloc Quebecois hasn’t been performing quite as strongly in the polls lately, which — in a race that’s this tight — could potentially help boost the Conservatives, according to one political scientist. But it’s unlikely to give them the 10,000-vote boost they’d need to steal the seat.

“The Conservatives do have support in the Quebec City area,” said Nelson Wiseman, who is a political science professor at the University of Toronto.

“I see that helping the Liberals, because I think more Bloc-ists will switch to the Conservatives.”

This poll will be one of the earlier ones to close come election day. And according to Bricker, looking at this riding’s result could help paint a picture of what Canadians can expect from the rest of the election night.

“If you see it fall to the Conservatives, then you know it’s going to be a very good night for the Conservative Party.”

Hochelaga

Quebec isn’t the only riding in La Belle Province that voters will want to watch closely on election night. The Montreal riding rewarded the Bloc Quebecois with its votes until 2011, when it changed hands to the NDP.

The orange wave held strong until 2019, when the Liberal candidate Soraya Martinez Ferrada bested the Bloc Quebecois by a margin of just 319 votes.

“Hochelaga is interesting because it’s one of those ridings that seems to flirt with all of the parties that are competitive in the province of Quebec, and seems to reflect what’s going on in terms of the how the overall province is voting in the election campaign,” Bricker said.

Come election night, the riding will be “a good test of whether the Liberals or the Bloc Quebecois, as we’re expecting in this election campaign, will be close.”

Wiseman said he expects the Liberals will manage to cling to this riding, too — barely.

“I would also give it to the Liberals. But I’m not as certain about that,” he said.

“I’m not sure the NDP vote is weaker in Quebec, but it might end up being weaker in that riding, and I could see…the Liberals and the Bloc putting resources into that riding. If it stays the same, which I think it will narrowly, it’ll go to the Liberals.”

However, a lot can change between now and election day, Wiseman warned. Not to mention that, according to Bricker, Quebec in general “is a total toss up.”

Richmond Hill

On election night in 2019, the Liberals also won the riding of Richmond Hill. Aside from a four-year Conservative stretch in 2011, the Liberals have held the riding since 2004.

But that came very, very close to changing in 2019.

Liberal candidate Majid Jowhari secured the seat with a lead of just 112 votes, while the Conservative candidate, Costas Menegakis, nipped at his heels.

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“It’s one of those ridings in which the Conservatives and the Liberals are competitive and it switches back and forth and follows what happens in terms of the national elections,” Bricker said.

“So the Liberals and Conservatives have both won it when they’ve won their majorities.”

The riding straddles the 416 and the 905, putting the Liberals and the Conservatives neck and neck as the more urban parts of Richmond Hill coax out the Liberal supporters.

Wiseman said he expects the Conservatives to have the edge in this riding come Sept. 20.

“I think you’ve got to give the nod today to the Conservatives, and I’ll tell you why, because although the NDP candidate only got nine per cent of the vote (in 2019), I think they’re going to do better,” he said.

“And those riding those votes will be siphoned off from the Liberal candidate. So that would allow the Conservatives to win that riding, even if their vote doesn’t increase, even if their vote decreases, very narrowly.”

This riding will provide Canadians watching results roll in with yet another snapshot of what they can expect from the final result.

“If either party is going to win, on election night, the bulk of the 905 ridings, they have to probably pick up Richmond Hill,” Bricker said.

Port Moody—Coquitlam

No riding has gotten quite as much attention during this election campaign as Port Moody—Coquitlam. The B.C. riding has been able to get face-to-face time with all the major party leaders as they vied for votes in this incredibly close race.

The 2019 election result was nearly a three way tie. The Liberal, NDP and Conservative candidates all finished within about 1100 votes of one another — though it was Conservative candidate Nelly Shin who ultimately walked away with the seat, besting the NDP candidate by just over 300 votes.

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The riding has historically been pulled in many ideological directions. It’s had Conservative, NDP and Liberal MPs over the last 30 years. It was briefly split into two separate ridings in 2004 before being sewn back together during the 2015 election. One of those ridings stayed NDP for that decade, while the other stuck with the Conservatives.

“Port Moody Coquitlam is an interesting riding because it has been the seat for very high profile members of both the NDP and the Conservative Party,” Bricker said.

“You don’t get too many ridings that switch back and forth between the Conservatives and the NDP.”

Wiseman said this is the one riding that he’s quite confident will be flipped in the NDP’s favour — although a lot can happen between now and election day.

“I’m fairly confident about one of them swinging, and that’s the Port Moody—Coquitlam riding, which the Conservatives won (in 2019,” he said.

“In light of the NDP gains, and particularly, I think in British Columbia, I think that seat is going to go to the NDP.”

If Wiseman’s prediction is right, that’s a hit to the Liberal Party’s hopes for a majority government.

“It’s definitely a riding that the Liberals would love to pick up. If they’re going to win a majority, they have to pick up this writing,” Bricker said.

But, he noted, the NDP “has some history here.”

“If it picks up the riding, they’re going to have a really good night in British Columbia — and the current polling shows the NDP (is) more competitive in British Columbia than they were in the last election campaign,” Bricker said.

A close night

Still, there are a wide variety of factors that could change the landscape between now and election day. Many voters don’t even make up their minds until the final week of the election, according to Anna Esselment, who is a political science professor at the University of Waterloo.

“There’s a swath of people who don’t actually make their voting decision until the last week,” she said.

“So school has been in for a week. You know, kids are starting to get settled, routines are starting to come back. And I think some voters are like, ‘oh, there’s an election happening.’ And so when you go into the field, when pollsters are going into the field, what they’re getting now is probably more of the deciders.”

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That means polling could still fluctuate quite a bit in the week ahead.

“Canadians are actually making their decisions,” she said. “And now that can be picked up in public opinion data.”

So far, the national polling has been a bit all over the place, according to Wiseman.

“The national polls are not congruent today,” he said, pointing out that multiple respected polling firms are predicting different election results.

Either way, Bricker said the final sprint of the election campaign will be a busy one.

I think we’re going to see more passion in this last week as as both parties fight to to possibly win a plurality of seats,” said Bricker.

“But it’s a very, very close election right at the moment.”

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