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Stephen Harper's Conservatives have identified at least 190 ridings across the country - with roughly half of them in Ontario - in which they believe they will be "players" in an upcoming election.

Nearly 45 of those ridings are not currently held by the Conservatives. With 143 seats in the existing House of Commons, Mr. Harper would have a firm majority were he to secure his entire wish list when Canadians next go to the polls.

Election speculation has been bouncing off the walls of Parliament lately, especially after Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's year-end interviews in which he all but vowed to try and take down the minority Tory government over its spring budget. His challenge had Tory tongues wagging and certainly ramped up the view that there will be an election in 2011.

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Speaking to The Globe and Mail, Mr. Ignatieff noted his party is opposed to the Conservatives' corporate tax cuts and that he could not support a budget that included the $16-billion purchase of new fighter jets.

"If Iggy really wants to force an election, based on our data it's not in his interest," a senior Tory MP said in explaining Mr. Harper's wish list. "We will do nothing to provoke [an election]other than things we've already indicated, such as corporate tax reductions."

The Prime Minister has indicated that as well. In a year-end interview with CTV, which is to be broadcast in full on Christmas Day, Mr. Harper said he will not include some sort of "poison pill" in the budget to provoke the opposition to try to defeat him.

While the Prime Minister said he didn't want an election in 2011, it appears the Tories are certainly thinking of one next year.

Some of their target ridings are obvious - the three seats in Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, that were held prior to the last election and not just the Avalon seat they lost as a direct result of Danny Williams's Anybody-But-Conservatives campaign. Now that the popular premier has stepped down, the Conservatives think they can win them back.

In the Maritimes, the Tories see Charlottetown as a possibility since long-time Liberal MP Shawn Murphy has decided not to run again, leaving that seat open to new blood. There are only four ridings in Prince Edward Island, three of which are currently represented by Liberals and the other by Fisheries Minister Gail Shea.

But it's the Greater Toronto Area that appears ripe for Conservative picking, especially after their November by-election victory in Vaughan. Similar ridings north of Toronto are vulnerable, given the Tory message of law and order and the work the party has done, especially through Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's efforts, in building strength with new Canadians.

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The Tories believe they're in play in ridings in Brampton, where the vote was very close between them and the Liberals in the last election. Possibilities exist for them, too, in Mississauga, where the vote was also close in 2008. As well, long-time Liberal MP Albina Guaranieri has decided not to run in the next election, which opens up her Mississauga East-Cooksville seat.

If all goes as planned, the Conservatives "will be the only truly national party with seats in every jurisdiction," the senior MP said.

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