Voters in Canada's largest province go cold on the Conservatives

Tue Sep 15, 2015 1:08am EDT
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By David Ljunggren

COLLINGWOOD, Ontario (Reuters) - Voters are drifting away from Canada's ruling Conservatives in Ontario, the province that holds the key to the October 19 general election, and if the trend continues it will cost Prime Minister Stephen Harper his 10-year grip on power.

A senior Conservative deeply involved in the campaign says that as of now, a dozen Ontario legislators or more could easily lose their seats as support for the party in some parliamentary constituencies is set to drop by up to 15 percentage points.

The forecast shows the challenge for the right-of-center Conservatives in Ontario, which includes Toronto - Canada's largest city and financial hub. The province, the size of France and Germany combined, accounts for 36 percent of the seats in the new Parliament and no party can hope to win power without a strong foothold here.

The Conservatives took 73 of the 106 seats in the 2011 election, cementing Harper's first majority. The number of Ontario seats will increase from 106 to 121 this time as the House of Commons expands to 338 seats from 308.

Nationally, polls show two left-leaning parties, the Liberals and the New Democrats (NDP), tied with the Conservatives at around 30 percent each.

Conservative voters say they are tired of the government after a decade in power and variously cite concerns about the sluggish economy, unhappiness over a scandal in Harper's office as well as increasing antipathy towards the prime minister and his take-no-prisoners political style.

Two senior cabinet members from the province said it was becoming harder to persuade people - including committed supporters - to vote for the party.

Labour Minister Kellie Leitch said the campaign in her Simcoe-Grey constituency north of Toronto was going "outstandingly well" but conceded that for some people, voting Conservative was "not a gut reaction any more".   Continued...

Conservative leader and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper pauses while speaking during a campaign event at a factory in Stittsville, Ontario September 13, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie