Conservative MPs in the Greater Toronto Area are shifting into safer ridings as nomination races heat up, a sign the party is on the defensive in a pivotal region heading into the 2015 election.
The new electoral map will add 15 seats to Ontario, many of them in the GTA, where boundaries were extensively redrawn. Some Conservative MPs' ridings are being sliced in half, and a Globe and Mail analysis of Elections Canada figures shows many of the incumbents are choosing the ones that are, politically, the surest wins.
It was largely seat gains in this region that helped the Harper Conservatives win a majority in 2011. Without a strong showing there, they could lose power.
Some party members had hoped incumbents would run in riskier ridings and leave safer bets to newer candidates in hopes of making gains in the GTA. Former Conservative senator and campaign director Doug Finley, who died last year, had been co-ordinating such efforts, one source said.
Infographic: Tory MPs running in new, safer GTA ridings
But as the party's national poll numbers are slumping, incumbents in the GTA are choosing friendly ridings in a largely secretive nomination process. One such race, in the new riding of Brampton North, closed this week with incumbent MP Parm Gill acclaimed as the candidate.
Elections Canada researchers applied 2011 poll results to the new boundaries. Their numbers indicate Mr. Gill and at least four other GTA Conservatives have picked the safest seats created out of their present ridings. Some live in their new ridings, or plan to, some do not, and one would not say. Kyle Seeback will run in the new riding of Brampton South; Corneliu Chisu in Pickering-Uxbridge; and Joe Daniel in Don Valley North, where he lives. Eve Adams will leave her current Mississauga riding altogether to run in nearby Oakville North-Burlington.
Ms. Adams's current Mississauga riding was split largely in two, in which the Conservative got 42 per cent and 37 per cent of the 2011 vote. Ms. Adams moved to the Oakville North - Burlington riding a year ago and intends to run there, saying she has always run where she lives. It's a riding that went 52 per cent Conservative in the last election, and where she'll have competition.
A local chiropractor and long-time party supporter, Natalia Lishchyna, has been campaigning for the Conservative nomination in the riding since last year.
"I was surprised to learn [Ms. Adams was running] and remain concerned. Eve has deep roots in Mississauga and the Prime Minister needs her to keep that seat for the party rather than having someone new run there, which puts the seat at greater risk," Ms. Lishchyna said in an e-mail.
Mr. Chisu's current riding, which includes part of Toronto and Pickering, was split in half. He will run in the safer half, saying his constituency office is there and he finds it easier to deal with local authorities in the Pickering region than Toronto's city council. The party did not suggest where he should run, he said. "[There was] absolutely no pressure, absolutely not. It was my choice," he said, adding: "Unfortunately, I cannot be responsible for somebody changing the riding on me."
Two other Conservative MPs in the GTA whose ridings are being split, Bal Gosal and Costas Menegakis, declined repeated requests to say where they plan to run.
Paul Calandra, an MP from York Region just north of Toronto, will run in Markham-Stouffville, where he lives. It is neither the safest nor the riskiest of the several ridings being created out of his current one. Candidates typically decide based on where they live, he said, acknowledging "very rarely are you going to find a candidate who is going to take a riding they won [with] 52 per cent and go challenge in a riding that maybe they only got 34 per cent or 40 per cent."
The party did not reply to a request for comment on its GTA candidates. One prominent local Conservative, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mr. Finley "was very engaged in who went where" in nominations. "He's a very smart guy and a lovely guy and we lost him too soon, but he was ruthless in helping the [riding associations] select their candidates and where they went," the source said.
The Conservatives have pledged "fair and open" nomination races, but are not announcing them publicly and many incumbents have been acclaimed without any challengers.