Election battle begins in Greater Toronto Area

Election observers say the Greater Toronto Area's 44 seats could be a key battleground in Tuesday's federal election.

Election day has arrived in the Greater Toronto Area, and there's increased excitement and heightened anticipation for Tuesday's political battle.

Weather forecasters are predicting some clouds, scattered showers and a high of 23 C for the 12-hour voting period, while political forecasters expect a bumpy night, with some voters making last-minute decisions that could have a major impact on the next Parliament.

A cyclist pushes his bike past election signs in Toronto. ((Peter McCluskey/CBC))

The polls open at 9:30 a.m. ET and close at 9:30 p.m. will provide live coverage of the results beginning at 10 p.m. ET.

Elections Canada officials say they are prepared to handle a larger turnout than the 65 per cent of GTA voters who went to the polls in 2006.

Among voters with concerns about the economy on her mind on election day is Joyce Blair, who owns Balfour Books, a second-hand book store in Toronto's Little Italy. Like many small business owners, she's worried about how the wild swings in the markets will affect business.

"Probably, I'll vote Liberal," she told

Toronto and its surrounding suburbs account for the most vote-rich area in Canada. At stake are 44 seats with some of the country's most ethnically diverse populations, and voters representing different socio-economic backgrounds. The Toronto Centre riding, for example, contains some of the richest and some of the poorest neighbourhoods in the country.

In 2006, the Liberals came away with lion's share of the seats in the GTA, with the Conservatives taking five and the NDP winning three.

This time out, the Liberals want to hold on to their 36 seats, the Conservatives want to knock off the Liberals in the suburbs and nearby cities where they believe their support is strongest, and the NDP hopes to build a stronger base and recapture some of the old ridings that used to vote New Democrat.

For the past 15 years, Toronto voters have leaned heavily towards the Liberals, but both the Conservatives and the NDP believe this year could be a turning point. Both parties have targeted ridings where they think they can make gains.

A Jack Layton campaign sign sits on a Toronto lawn. ((Peter McCluskey/CBC))

The NDP has run an aggressive campaign in the City of Toronto where the party is hoping to improve on its more than three seats: Toronto-Danforth, represented by party leader Jack Layton, nearby Trinity-Spadina held by his wife, Olivia Chow, and Parkdale-High Park, which has popular area activist Peggy Nash as its MP.

But Nash is in an epic struggle with Liberal hopeful Gerard Kennedy, who who threw his support behind Stéphane Dion, effectively giving Dion the party leadership.

Another riding that promises to be close is Beaches-East York.

Two high-profile women, incumbent Liberal Maria Minna and NDP stalwart Marilyn Churley, are also in a tight race.

For the Conservatives, the prize on election night appears to be in the 905 region — a reference to the local area code. Those suburban ridings are made up of an affluent population that Conservative pundits believe should be counted in their column at the end of the night.

In the Mike Harris era in Ontario politics, the 905 was staunchly Conservative. But in federal politics, the region has wavered, sending some Tories and some Liberals to Ottawa.

In 2006, the GTA looked like a ball of Liberal red, with just a few slashes or orange, hemmed in by a ribbon of blue on the outer reaches. The Conservative objective in 2008 is to creep closer to the city and pick up some ridings that border Toronto, one or two of the Mississauga ridings, or Vaughan or Thornhill.

Analysts say it will be interesting to see how the Conservatives make out in the Mississauga ridings — success in the suburbs may be an indication of a wider win. Conversely, losses in the 905 may be an indication that Conservative hopes for a majority won't be realized.

Greens impress Toronto mayor

Urban issues that have been dogging candidates throughout the campaign include housing, crime, education, and funding for public transportation and infrastructure repairs.

Toronto Mayor David Miller waded into the campaign in its early days, pushing his favourite issue — a ban on handguns.

Miller said at the time he wouldn't endorse any specific party, but urged Torontonians to choose the one that will help the city thrive.

"Well, so far the Green party has addressed city issues and I say, 'Good for them.' I would hope the Liberals and the NDP would do the same thing," said Miller.

During another appearance in September, Miller wore a campaign button prominently declaring his political preference: "Vote Toronto."

Voters in the GTA, like those across the country, have been transfixed by the financial crisis gripping world markets.

But unlike voters in other centres, workers in the GTA have been punished with staggering economic news.

According to a July report from TD Bank Financial Group, about 100,000 jobs have been lost from the manufacturing sector in the area alone since mid-2002.

In September, the same bank predicted a further 250,000 manufacturing jobs, many based in Toronto and surrounding communities, could be lost in Ontario over the next five years.

After considering her position for a while, bookstore owner Joyce Blair has made up her mind.

"I'll vote Liberal," she said. "They're better for Toronto."