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Construction cranes that are being used to build condominium buildings are seen in front of the CN Tower in Toronto.MARK BLINCH/Reuters

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The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Ontario submitted its final report last week confirming that Toronto doesn't matter like it used to.

But though the relative weight of Canada's largest city in the House of Commons has declined, it remains a political barometer, a leading indicator of political party fortunes. How Toronto votes in the next election will signal who governs after it.

Thanks to the 2011 census and new legislation, the House of Commons will increase by 30 seats, from 308 to 338 in 2015. Fifteen of those new seats are in Ontario, for a total provincial count of 121.

The commission decided to allocate two of those new seats to Toronto. But in a telling indication of who is moving where, the cities surrounding it – stretching from Hamilton in the southwest to Barrie in the North to Cobourg in the East – received 11 new seats, further reinforcing the electoral dominance of the 905, as it's called in honour of its area code.

If Toronto lacks the heft it once did in political representation, however, the electoral splits in the city make it a sort of oversized bellwether.

Many analysts overlook the fact that the Conservatives won Toronto in 2011, taking nine of its 23 seats.

The NDP surged to eight, helping make it the Official Opposition, while the Liberals were reduced to six.

The Conservative breakthrough came in Toronto's suburbs: Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough.

The new riding of Don Valley North is carved out of Tory turf, giving the party a potential gain next time out.

But the Conservative win in Toronto was part of its domination of suburban Southern Ontario.

And the party was lucky: A rising NDP vote in Toronto weakened the Liberals, often allowing the Conservative candidate to come up the middle.

If support for Stephen Harper weakens in suburban Southern Ontario, or if the NDP vote returns to its traditional level of support, then the first Tory losses will come in Toronto, probably to the Liberals' advantage. How much of suburban Toronto stays blue, and how much of it turns red, will tell us a lot about who forms the next government.

After a period of little growth, the city's population expanded moderately over the past five years, as new residents – many of them immigrants or young professionals or both – took advantage of the new condos flooding the city.

"Many of the traditional neighbourhoods have evolved as a result," said Michael Pal, a fellow at the Mowat Centre, an Ontario-issues think tank. How many Chinese live in Chinatown any more, or Italians in Little Italy? In the face of these changes, the challenge for the NDP under Thomas Mulcair will be to preserve the gains made under Jack Layton.

The demographics are particularly difficult for Olivia Chow, whose riding has been redrawn and renamed (from Trinity-Spadina to Spadina-Fort York), giving her a whole new swath of condo-dwelling voters to contend with.

But don't count Ms. Chow out.

Nathan Rotman, the party's national director, used to work for her. "My experience in the area is that they are about 50-per-cent renters," he said in an e-mail exchange. "Most are second- or third-generation Canadians who grew up in the burbs and are either moving out or buying their first place." Ms. Chow has taken the condo vote before; she could do it again.

For the Liberals, winning back Toronto is essential to the party's revival.

Right now, attention is focused on a future by-election in Toronto Centre, where the well-known journalist and author Chrystia Freeland is seeking to replace Bob Rae. If she wins, Ms. Freeland will probably run in the newly created riding of University-Rosedale in 2015.

But downtown Toronto doesn't elect the prime minister or the premier. It doesn't even elect the mayor.

If Justin Trudeau wants to become prime minister, he will have to win the vote in suburban Toronto – Rob Ford country, even to this day.

Which is why, if you want to know who's going to win the next election, you might want to park yourself in a coffee shop in Scarborough, North York or Etobicoke, and listen to what the people have to say.

John Ibbitson is the chief political writer in the Ottawa bureau.

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