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In Canadian politics, this is the only thing that matters: In the last five years, Canada imported the equivalent of a large new city. This large new city, and the two large cities that arrived in the 10 years before that, and the large new cities that will arrive like clockwork every five years for years to come, choose the government.

The foreign-born and the children of the foreign born are a political hammer. They will decide in 2015 whether Stephen Harper remains prime minister, or whether Thomas Mulcair or Justin Trudeau replaces him.

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The data from the 2011 National Household Survey released by Statistics Canada Wednesday is shocking, though not surprising. Far more than any other major developed nation, we are a nation of newcomers. Immigrants represent 20.6 per cent of our population, more than one-in-five of us.

In the last five years, 1.2 million people moved here, the equivalent of Calgary or Edmonton or Ottawa-Gatineau.

This might be only a number to you, if you live in Atlantic Canada or rural Canada or anywhere outside our largest cities. But if you live in one of those large cities, you don't need Statistics Canada to tell you that our nation is regenerating itself with newcomers, most of whom come either from Asian or Pacific nations.

Where they live constitutes a Who's-Who of swing ridings — constituencies that tend to switch between parties in elections, almost always choosing the party that forms the government. Of the 15 municipalities with the highest proportion of visible-minority populations (the vast majority of them either immigrants or the children of immigrants), 13 are located in or around Toronto or Vancouver. The other two are located outside Montreal.

Markham. Richmond. Brampton. Mississauga. Burnaby. Surrey. All are chock full of swing ridings, and all have populations that are majority viz-min.

This is why Ontario is increasingly becoming a Pacific province — culturally if not geographically. This is why any federal political leader who wants to govern must take into account the values and attitudes of Canadians who come from the Philippines, India and China, the three biggest source countries.

This is why almost all of the 30 new seats that will be added to the House of Commons in the next election are carved out of existing ridings in Greater Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary or Edmonton.

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We can debate whether it is wise to be bringing in so many immigrants to this country, but what is beyond debate is the pivotal importance of their votes. They choose the government.

Stephen Harper knows this, which is why the Conservatives have courted the immigrant vote with such dedication, including policies that emphasize fiscal prudence and a strong emphasis on law and order. Polls consistently show that immigrant Canadians consider both issues important.

The Tory near-sweep of the 905—the belt of suburban and ex-urban ridings outside Toronto — accounts for the Conservative majority government. Almost all of those ridings have large immigrant populations.

Conversely, regions that voted substantially against the Tories are regions where immigrants are thin on the ground: Not one Atlantic Canadian province is home to even one per cent of new arrivals over the past five years. Quebec outside Montreal or Gatineau also contains very few immigrants.

And of the three biggest cities, Montreal is by far the least diverse. Forty-six per cent of Toronto's population is foreign-born. In Vancouver the figure is 40 per cent. In Montreal, it's 23 per cent.

Sum it up: immigrants are flooding into this country — and have been, now, for almost two decades — at the rate of two large cities every 10 years. Just over half of them live in or near Toronto or Vancouver. They dominate the swing ridings that determine who wins federal elections. Their influence, which is already great, will only grow over time. Right now, they vote Conservative.

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That does not mean they will vote Conservative in 2015. But if the NDP or the Liberals want to win the next election — or any election in the foreseeable future — they have one task above all else: take the immigrant vote away from the Tories.

Everything else is just noise.

John Ibbitson is the Globe's chief political writer.

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