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A woman casts her ballot in the Ontario election at a Toronto poling station on Oct. 6, 2011. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A woman casts her ballot in the Ontario election at a Toronto poling station on Oct. 6, 2011. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Battleground Ontario: Key ridings to watch on election night Add to ...

Voters in Ontario cast their ballots Thursday in a hotly contested election.

Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty is seeking a third consecutive majority but faces stiff competition from Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives and Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats.

Here’s a region-by-region look at ridings that will decide Ontario’s next government.

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GREATER TORONTO AREA

Peel Region west of Toronto, which includes the eight seats of Brampton and Mississauga all held by Liberals, could have made the difference between a Tory majority and minority.

But Mr. Hudak’s attacks on foreign workers and students may have backfired here. The two ridings to watch are Mississauga South , where a mid-campaign decision to scrap a gas-fired plant may either save the seat for the Liberals or tip it into Tory hands.

Bramalea-Gore-Malton could turn out to be a three-way battle among incumbent Liberal Kuldip Kular, Tory Sanjeev Maingi, and Jagmeet Singh, who came within 600 votes of winning it for the NDP in May’s federal election.

Thornhill , north of Toronto, has swung back and forth between Tory and Liberal in razor-thin races. This time around, it’s a battle between two well-known men in the Jewish community. Bernie Farber, former head of the Canadian Jewish Congress, is the Liberal candidate. Peter Shurman, the Tory incumbent, won a tight contest against Liberal Mario Racco in the last election. Federally, the riding is solidly Conservative.

Toronto itself seems solidly Liberal, but each opposition party has a chance to pick up a few of the 23 seats in this region.

Pickering-Scarborough East and Etobicoke-Lakeshore are must-wins for the Tories if they have any hope of forming a majority. Eglinton-Lawrence featuring two political street fighters: veteran Liberal MPP Mike Colle against Tory Rocco Rossi, a novice at provincial politics but a former mayoral candidate (and Liberal Party of Canada president).

The NDP look poised to turn their organizational advantage in Davenport into a pick-up. And for the third time in four and a half years, York South-Weston will feature Liberal incumbent Laura Albanese against the NDP’s Paul Ferriera. The margins in their last two contests were 358 and 469 votes.

Burlington , west of the city, is traditionally Tory but the Liberals think they have a good chance of winning because the incumbent, Joyce Savoline, is not seeking re-election. Mr. McGuinty was in the riding earlier in the campaign, to speak to volunteers at Liberal candidate Karmel Sakran’s office. As well, the region is becoming more ethnically diverse, which Liberals feel gives them an advantage.

So do the Tories. Mr. Hudak wrapped up his campaign Wednesday evening by posing for a photo op at candidate Jane McKenna’s office. It was his second visit to the riding.

SOUTHWESTERN ONTARIO

The one time safe Liberal seat of Windsor West is up for grabs following the departure of Sandra Pupatello, the former economic development minister who represented the riding for 16 years.

The Tories haven’t won a seat here since the 1960s, but with the popular Ms. Pupatello out of the running, New Democrat candidate and local businessman Helmi Charif has a fighting chance. All three party leaders have made campaign stops riding. Mr. Charif is competing against Liberal candidate Teresa Piruzza, who previously worked as a campaign manager for Ms. Pupatello.

London-Fanshawe is shaping up to be a three-way race. The Liberals nabbed all four London area seats in 2007 – but incumbent Khalil Ramal won London-Fanshawe by a slim margin.

Liberals are nervous about what happened in the federal election, when the Conservatives won three London seats and the New Democrats took the fourth. Both the Tories and the NDP are pouring a lot of resources in to the riding in the hopes of making a big breakthrough.

The Liberal war room was quick to call attention to a radio interview Tory candidate Cheryl Miller did with a local station on Wednesday, when she said: “I knock on doors and people say, ‘I like you, but I don’t like your leader,’ and that’s been really difficult for me.”

The rural riding of Lambton–Kent–Middlesex is held by Liberal incumbent Maria Van Bommel. But the Tories feel they have a strong chance of winning it. Mr. McGuinty’s flagship Green Energy Act is controversial in the region because it is leading to the development of wind turbines.

A small but vocal minority is fighting the wind farms. Protestors, including one waving a sign reading, “Gadhafi, McGuinty: Dictactors with Green Revolutions,” were outside the Gardenia Restaurant in Strathroy on Wednesday when Mr. McGuinty made a brief campaign stop. Tory candidate Monte McNaugton is fighting the wind farms, calling them the “greatest injustice” of the Liberal government.

NORTHERN ONTARIO

There could be unprecedented turnover in the region’s 11 seats. The Liberals have not delivered enough jobs to satisfy voters, and cabinet ministers in Sudbury (Rick Bartolucci) and Thunder Bay-Superior North (Michael Gravelle) could be vulnerable, Mr. Bartolucci to the NDP and Mr. Gravelle to both the Tories (running former BlackBerry executive Anthony LeBlanc) and the NDP (running injured workers’ advocate Steve Mantis).

Ms. Horwath’s repeat visits may pay benefits for neighboring ridings in the Sudbury media market, especially Liberal-held Algoma-Manitoulin and Sault Ste. Marie . Meanwhile, North Bay’s Vic Fedeli is well positioned in Nipissing and has a guaranteed seat at the cabinet table in any Tory government

EASTERN ONTARIO

There are fewer seats here likely to change hands. The Tories have their sights set on Liberal-held Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry and Glengarry-Prescott-Russell , largely rural ridings with significant francophone populations that the federal Conservatives have turned blue in recent elections.

Mark Carleton-Mississippi Mills as a wildcard. The Tory candidate is landowners’ rights activist Jack MacLaren, whose defeat of 34-year incumbent Norm Sterling for the nomination prompted former PC Premier Ernie Eves to complain of “Tea Party elements” within the party. The riding is a satellite of Ottawa, and there may be enough of an urban, or urbane, population here to yield a Liberal pick-up if the Tories are in free-fall.

And if the NDP surge is real, watch Ottawa Centre , where hundreds of Parliament Hill staffers will try to push Desmond Tutu-endorsed Anil Naidoo to victory over the industrious Liberal incumbent, Yasir Naqvi.

Follow on Twitter: @kahowlett

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