Ontario election 2022: London North Centre the local race to watch, political scientist says

The 2022 Ontario election officially got underway on Wednesday as candidates hit the campaign trail, looking to woo voters and potentially flip some ridings come election night.

While London-area ridings will likely remain the same colour this election, one local political scientist says, there is an exception: London North Centre.

“The best polling information I can locate suggests that it’s possibly a toss-up between the NDP and the Progressive Conservative Party,” said Cameron Anderson, an associate professor in Western University’s department of political science.

“London—Fanshawe and London West, I think the incumbents are both well ensconced in those ridings and I would be very surprised to see much change in either of those.”

Incumbent Terence Kernaghan is running again for the New Democrats against the PCs’ Jerry Pribil, the Liberals’ Kate Graham, and the Green Party’s Carol Dyck. Graham and Dyck both ran for the riding in 2018. This is Pribil’s first foray into provincial political candidacy.

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With a stronger-looking Liberal Party this time around, London North Centre is expected to be a much closer race than it was in 2018 when Kernaghan was elected with 47 per cent of the vote to Tory runner-up Susan Truppe’s 30 per cent. Graham placed third in 2018 with just 15 per cent of the vote, marking the party’s worst-ever showing in the riding.

Graham’s loss, however, was reflective of the party’s overall performance that year under incumbent premier Kathleen Wynne. The party dropped down to third, shed 48 seats, and lost official party status. The Liberals’ had just seven seats at Queen’s Park before the legislature was dissolved.

“Last time around, the Liberals were in a poorer state in the polling numbers in the province, and voters that didn’t want the Progressive Conservative Party coalesced around the NDP,” Anderson said.

“This time around, it’s unclear as to whether, provincially, the Liberals would still be in third place or whether they have a chance of becoming the second-place party. And would London North Centre follow along with that?” he said. The riding, he added, has been more prone in the past to broader provincial trends.

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New polling conducted by Ipsos for Global News found that, if the election were held tomorrow, the PC Party would garner 39 per cent of the decided popular vote, while the Ontario Liberals would receive 26 per cent, and the NDP 25 per cent.

In southwestern Ontario, the PCs are sitting at 38 per cent of the vote, while the NDP has 25 per cent and the Liberals 21 per cent, according to the Ipsos polling.

London North Centre has been largely Liberal since its formation in the 1990s. Voters elected PC Dianne Cunningham in its first contest in 1999 by a narrow margin but chose Liberal Deb Matthews over Cunningham four years later. Matthews would go on to be re-elected three more times.

Kernaghan’s win in 2018 marked the first time a New Democrat had been elected in London North Centre, and was one of just a handful of times in which an NDP candidate was elected in the area, going back to London North Centre’s predecessor ridings.

But with the vote appearing more likely to be split among the Liberals and NDP this time, the race for London North Centre could be razor-thin, Anderson said.

“At this stage, it’s looking like between the NDP and the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, and it could be within a point or two come election day for one party or the other,” Anderson said.

Outside of the city, he said it would be surprising to see the incumbentless Elgin—Middlesex—London or Lambton—Kent—Middlesex go to a party other than the Tories.

Recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and affordability, inflation, and housing are expected to be the big topics raised during the weeks-long campaign, along with the Ford government’s track record since 2018, particularly during the pandemic, Anderson said.

“What’s the province doing to help with inflation and cost of living amounts for people in the area? … Housing prices have gone up in dramatic ways over the last few years. What sorts of things can a provincial government do to assist new home buyers getting into the market, for instance?” he said.

“London’s a big health care provider in the region, so health care funding — things related to wait times for all manner of health procedures, those sorts of things — I think are potentially (going to be) top of mind as well.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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