The rumour mill continues to churn on both Parliament Hill and at Queen's Park about the timing of the next federal election.


Because of a series of decisions — some of them were expected and some not — beginning with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to finally meet with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Then Julian Fantino was demoted.

And just last week, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt stood next to Wynne to announce a joint $100-million commitment to Guelph-based auto parts giant Linamar and, Finance Minister Joe Oliver delayed his budget until April.

All of that as the Conservatives have some new political math to contemplate. There will be 338 seats up for grabs this spring (or fall?). So that means it'll take 170 seats to form a majority government.

The redistributed results of the last election give Harper 188 seats in the House of Commons going into the election. Of those, he is only able to lose 18 to maintain his majority.

But, the reality of the situation is this: The Conservatives need wins to offset the inevitable losses and again that makes vote-rich Ontario — the Greater Toronto Area in particular — very important for the Conservatives.

Hence, the meeting with Wynne and, that auto parts announcement in a riding where the incumbent Liberal MP isn’t seeking re-election.

In 2011, the Conservatives won 73 of Ontario’s 106 seats, while in Toronto they captured eight of the more than 20 ridings.

So seats they hold or pick up are, therefore, critical. But it's the ridings that make up Scarborough, in Toronto’s east end, that present both problems and opportunities.

'How do the Conservatives change the landscape in this part of Toronto?'

Liberal and NDP holds seem likely in Agincourt, Guildwood, Scarborough North and Southwest.

Rouge Park is a new riding this time around — though its boundaries reveal a Liberal tradition.

So, how do the Conservatives change the landscape in this part of Toronto?

For the possible answer to that, you’ve got to go back 15 years to a cold October day in Toronto and an announcement that involved then prime minister Jean Chrétien, then premier Mike Harris and Toronto then mayor Mel Lastman.

Chrétien used that photo-op with Harris and Lastman – both well-known Tories – to commit $500 million to waterfront revitalization. Shortly after, he called a federal election and took 100 of Ontario’s 103 ridings, sweeping Toronto.

So, fast-forward to the upcoming election and maybe another photo-op with a prime minister, premier and mayor.

It could be about more cash for a Scarborough subway or, a resolution of the future of the Rouge Valley National Park or even needed federal help to reroute the mouth of the Don River, creating a whole new part of Toronto.

Dealing with one or two or all three would be check marks on Harper's Ontario election to-do list, that might just turn into check marks on election ballots in what increasingly looks like a spring election.

With files from CBC's Bob Weiers