Liberals hold Toronto, but Conservatives make gains in 905

Five weeks of campaigning, thousands of phone calls, hand shakes and all-candidates meetings have failed to change much when it comes to federal politics in the GTA.

Five weeks of campaigning, thousands of phone calls, hand shakes and all-candidates meetings have failed to change much when it comes to federal politics in the GTA. 

A few more Conservatives will head to Ottawa from the country's most populous region, but not from the Toronto ridings.

Liberal Michael Ignatieff speaks to supporters in Toronto. ((CBC))

What will make a difference is the makeup of the Liberal caucus — which will now hold six former leadership rivals to Stéphane Dion, all of them representing Toronto ridings.

Bob Rae, Ken Dryden, Martha Hall Findlay, Joe Volpe and Michael Ignatieff each won re-election. They will be joined by Gerard Kennedy, who was elected Tuesday as a rookie MP.

Early in the night, even before the polls closed in central Canada, it became apparent that the Conservatives were on their way to form the government. The only question seemed to be whether they would end up with a minority or a majority.

Vote-rich Toronto and the surrounding ridings — know as the 905 ridings — could make the difference.

But as the results started to come in, it became clear that although the Liberal fortunes were in trouble in other parts of the country, the situation in Toronto wasn't going to be part of the party's problem.

"It was an interesting night. I don't think it resolved very much," said York University political scientist Robert Drummond.

Not a collapse

With so many high profile candidates inside the borders of the old city of Toronto, the Liberals were well placed to hold on to their 36 seats. 

In the end they managed to keep 32 — not a collapse. The NDP lost one seat to end up with two. And the Conservatives managed to double their total to 10. But the increase wasn't enough to change the political dynamic in any meaningful way.

"I think the Conservatives wound up doing a little better than the polls suggested they would, in terms of popular vote," Drummond said in an interview with CBC News. 

"This is a city [Toronto] that hasn't been very supportive of the Conservatives for the past little while … I'm guessing that inside Toronto there isn't very much sympathy for them," he said.

But while little appears to have changed overall, in some ridings there have been some major political shifts.

The NDP lost an important race in Toronto's Parkdale-High Park, where popular NDP incumbent Peggy Nash was defeated by Kennedy. 

Kennedy is best remembered as the candidate who threw his support behind Dion, assuring him of the party leadership.

NDP hopes of recapturing the old stronghold of Beaches-East York were dashed when Liberal Maria Minna held on against a strong challenge from Marilyn Churley. 

No 'gold medal' for NDP

NDP Leader Jack Layton acknowledges supporters in Toronto. ((Mike Cassese/Reuters))

The husband-and-wife team of NDP Leader Jack Layton and Olivia Chow did manage a repeat from their 2006 election result.

Layton will represent Toronto-Danforth and Chow Trinity-Spadina. But they will be the only NDP MPs from the GTA.

Layton said his party didn't "win the gold medal" in Tuesday's vote. 

The Conservatives made inroads in the areas surrounding Toronto, picking up five more seats than they held at dissolution — including Mississauga-Erindale, Halton, Oakville and Brampton West. 

But after the five-week election campaign that was punched, pummelled and kicked by the wild swings in the financial markets, Toronto voters appeared uneasy with a Conservative majority.

The GTA has been stung by the flight of manufacturing jobs, the loss of lucrative auto sector jobs as well as car production.  And tourism was hurt by the dollar that spent much of the year trading at par or above its U.S. counterpart.

Both the provincial government and the Toronto mayor have been vocal critics of the Conservatives, whom they have accused of ignoring urban issues.

Drummond, dean of York University's faculty of arts, said the Conservatives have a credibility problem with voters in Toronto.

Larger question

"I think it [the election result] says they don't find much in common with Stephen Harper and what they think of as his view of the country," he said.

But the larger question will focus on Dion and his ability to hold on to the leadership of the party and what role the members of the Toronto caucus might play in a future leadership contest.

Two of the probable contenders to replace Dion, Ignatieff and Rae, were asked about their ambitions — and both said they supported the leader.

"There's no question that this result is disappointing. There's no hiding it and I want to be one of the people that helps the party rebuild," Ignatieff said.

"But we have a leader, so the leadership issue isn't open and I'm not going to discuss it."