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Parm Gill, the Conservative candidate for the Brampton-Springdale riding does some last minute canvassing as he looks to unseat incumbent, Liberal Ruby Dhalla.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The Conservatives swept aside the Liberal Party in the suburban ridings around Toronto, reducing the once-dominant Big Red Machine to a single seat in the 905 area code.

It was an astonishing victory for the Conservative Party, which benefited from stronger NDP vote totals to leapfrog long-time Liberal incumbents. The lone survivor was stalwart Liberal MP John McCallum in Markham-Unionville. Normally the recipient of some of the largest majorities in Canada, Mr. McCallum won a narrow victory over his Conservative opponent.

In Brampton-Springdale, high-profile Liberal Ruby Dhalla was handily defeated by her Conservative opponent Parm Gill, who had campaigned against her full-time since losing to Ms. Dhalla in 2008. Accusations flew back and forth during an acrimonious campaign.

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Mr. Gill had to withstand a last-minute charge from Ms. Dhalla that he had an inappropriate relationship with the office of the Immigration Minister, which he denied. Speaking to a crowd of jubilant supporters last night he said his victory was emblematic of the significant shift among new Canadians from the Liberal Party to the Conservatives.

"It was only a matter of time" Mr. Gill said. "It was a myth that the immigrant communities would only vote for the Liberals. Now they've looked on the other side of the fence and realized their values lie with us. The Conservatives won't take them for granted."

Ms. Dhalla, putting on a brave face, described her defeat and others in the area as a "heart-breaking time for the Liberals." She vowed she would be back.

In Ajax-Pickering, Conservative candidate and former Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan Chris Alexander, 34, defeated incumbent Liberal Mark Holland, an outspoken MP who was a thorn in the side of the Conservatives.

Arriving at his election-night party as the first results came in, Mr. Alexander shook hands with supporters and kissed them on both cheeks.

"I think, honestly, it means the economy matters to people. The anxiety is still there," Mr. Alexander said. "All the leaders have been pitching their vision - but the most realistic one came from our party."

In all, the Conservatives were elected or leading in 23 of the 24 seats in the 905, a massive jump from the 2008 election, when they led the Liberals by 14 seats to 10. In 2006, 16 of the 24 seats went Liberal.

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At the outset Conservative strategists thought they could pry loose half a dozen Liberal seats in the region, which would have put them well on the way to a majority government. Mr. Harper tailored his platform to appeal specifically to these suburban voters, particularly those ridings referred to in an accidentally leaked strategy document as "very ethnic." Roughly half the ridings in the 905 area are more than one-third immigrant.

The suburbs are also dominated by young families. Families with children at home make up more than 75 per cent of households in eight ridings in the 905, by far the largest concentration in the country. Those families were the target of Conservative promises on income splitting for stay-at-home parents, tax credits for children's activities and the caregiver tax-credit.

Mississauga South, long a Liberal riding, was one of the last stops on the weekend for Mr. Harper as he pushed for a blue breakthrough in the GTA.

Incumbent Paul Szabo, who had a high profile as chairman of the House Ethics Committee, had held the seat for the Liberals since 1993, but won by less than 5 percentage points in the last election. He was defeated by Stella Ambler, a former staff member of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. Ms. Ambler, who ran for the Tories and lost in the riding of Bramalea-Gore-Malton in 2008, gave up her post in the minister's office last year to run against the veteran Liberal MP.

Navdeep Bains, a popular Liberal MP who was mentioned as a potential leadership candidate, was defeated in his riding of Mississauga-Brampton South by Mississauga city councillor Eve Adams.

With reports from Elizabeth Church, Adrian Morrow and Tamara Baluja

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About the Author
Demographics Reporter

Joe Friesen writes about immigration, population, culture and politics. He was previously the Globe's Prairie bureau chief. More

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