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'This is ground zero': Conservative ex-MPs try to win back crucial GTA seats

Six former MPs in the Greater Toronto Area are aiming for a political comeback by trying to regain crucial seats for the Conservative Party. The ridings they're fighting to win back were crucial to Stephen Harper's majority in 2011, but went to the Liberals in 2015.

Ridings that were key to Stephen Harper's 2011 majority flipped back to Liberals in 2015

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, left, shakes hands with Ted Opitz, the Conservative candidate in Etobicoke Centre. Opitz is one of six former MPs in the GTA who lost their seats in 2015 but are running again in 2019.

Six former MPs in the Greater Toronto Area are aiming for a political comeback by trying to regain crucial seats for the federal Conservative Party.

Their victories in swing ridings in 2011 were key to Stephen Harper's majority, while their subsequent defeats in 2015 heralded the Liberal Party's domination of the GTA under Justin Trudeau. 

How these six candidates perform on election night in October will give a strong indication of the success of Andrew Scheer's 2019 campaign.

  • Etobicoke Centre: Ted Opitz
  • Mississauga-Lakeshore: Stella Ambler
  • Mississauga East-Cooksville: Wladyslaw Lizon
  • Newmarket-Aurora: Lois Brown
  • Oakville: Terence Young
  • Richmond Hill: Costas Menegakis

All six are considered target ridings by Scheer's Conservatives for multiple reasons, including their suburban makeup, the candidates' past wins, and the victories of Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives there in last year's Ontario election. 

"This is ground zero. This is where we have to win if we're going to win government," said Stella Ambler, the Conservative candidate in Mississauga-Lakeshore.

Stella Ambler is the Conservative candidate in Mississauga-Lakeshore. Her loss in the riding in 2015 was the tightest race among the six Mississauga seats swept by the Liberals. (CBC)

Ambler served as the riding's MP from 2011 to 2015. Her loss by 3,700 votes was the tightest race in the Liberals' 2015 sweep of Mississauga's six seats.

"Sure it's hard to lose, but honestly you can't take it personally, this business," said Ambler in an interview.

She said her decision to try again after the loss wasn't actually difficult, but required a little personal backtracking. "My husband reminded me that I said four years ago that I would never do this again," Ambler said with a laugh. 

Other party candidates in Mississauga-Lakeshore 

Cynthia Trentelman (Green)

Eugen Vizitiu (People's Party) 

The NDP has not yet named a candidate 

For Ambler, it is a rematch of her 2015 race against Sven Spengemann of the Liberals, but this time he is the incumbent.

"It's a totally different campaign, the feeling is different," said Ambler.

The voters of Mississauga-Lakeshore are "open-minded," she said. "They gave Justin Trudeau a chance but this time they're not gonna do it, so I'm confident it's going to swing back."

Ted Opitz is trying to take back the seat of Etobicoke Centre for the Conservative Party. He won the riding in a tight race in 2011, but lost in 2015. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

Signalling the importance of Etobicoke Centre to the Conservatives, Scheer made Ted Opitz's campaign office a stop on his leader's tour Wednesday afternoon.

Opitz admits his 2015 loss was disappointing, but says he's always kept the possibility of a comeback in mind.

"The decision was actually easier than I thought it would be," he said in an interview. "I enjoyed being in Parliament, I enjoyed serving." 

Opitz is not facing an incumbent, as the Liberal he lost to in 2015, Borys Wrzesnewskyj, isn't running. The Liberal candidate is Yvan Baker, who represented the riding provincially at Queen's Park for a term before losing in 2018.   

"It's a tough riding to win and you can take nothing for granted," said Opitz. His 2011 win was about as tight as it gets, by a margin of 26 votes. It wasn't sealed until the following year, when a Supreme Court of Canada ruling upheld his victory.  

Among the other former Conservative MPs seeking a comeback in GTA ridings, both Brown in Newmarket-Aurora and Young are contesting their fifth straight federal election. Each lost in 2006, won in 2008 and 2011, and lost in 2015. Both are facing first-time Liberal candidates as the incumbents are not seeking re-election.  

Menegakis's defeat in 2015 came in the riding of Aurora - Oak Ridges - Richmond Hill. He'd switched to contesting that riding after the boundaries for Richmond Hill were re-drawn. 

 

About the Author

Mike Crawley

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Mike Crawley is provincial affairs reporter in Ontario for CBC News. He has won awards for his reporting on the eHealth spending scandal and flaws in Ontario's welfare-payment computer system. Before joining the CBC in 2005, Mike filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist and worked as a newspaper reporter in B.C.

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