ERIN, ONT. Bruce Tupling has decided to give his toothpick a workout.The 77-year-old former bus driver has taken up his usual perch in front of his bungalow along the main drag where, white socks up on the footrest and toothpick spinning, he can observe everything that happens in this small farm community in the riding of Premier Ernie Eves.
He has read the morning papers. He knows all about the bad polls, the bad news, the quick predictions that, come Oct. 2, the premier of Ontario will be Liberal Dalton McGuinty with a majority government.
But he is not yet convinced, not with a debate and more than two weeks of unpredictability to go.
There is but a single re-elect Ernie Eves lawn sign up in this town of 2,000, and while Bruce Tupling can point to it and tell you who put it up and why -- just as he can tell you the name, age, job and voting patterns of almost every driver passing by -- he also says the number of Ernie Eves signs in the riding, low as it is, reveals nothing.
The people of Dufferin-Peel-Wellington-Grey like to keep their cards close to the vest, their intentions to themselves -- even though on the day this election was called it was a "given" that Eves would win here, if not the entire province.
There is, in fact, precious little indication that there is even an election on in these soft rolling hills to the northwest of Toronto, with the dew-worm signs as plentiful as the candidate signs along the roadsides.
But that does not mean there is no talk. All you have to do is stop and ask.
"There's some," says Tupling, "don't like the way Eves got parachuted into this riding. But some like having a premier, too.
"It's hard to say which way it might go."
The one certainty is that the third party, the NDP, "doesn't have a hope in a very hot place," says Tupling with a spin. "That's hell in case you don't know."
The local paper isn't even sure who is running for the New Democrats (Mitch Healey). But everyone seems to know that the Liberal candidate is a local boy -- Dan Yake from Mt. Forest -- while the other two who have the odd sign up, Eves and Green Party leader Frank de Jong, do not live in the riding, but "commute" from Toronto.
"Home-grown talent matters some," says Tupling. "That could certainly apply."
His own intention is to stick with Eves no matter what, because in his opinion everything so far balances out in favour of the incumbent. The "reptilian kitten-eater" comment didn't offend many people that he knows: "We're not as strait-laced as you might think." But they are strait-laced enough, he warns, to rebel against any Liberal initiative, even if it's at the federal level, to legalize same-sex marriage.
"Somewhere, some time," he says, drawing the toothpick out for effect, "you've got to take a stand for what you believe.
"I just don't think McGuinty is made of the right stuff. But Ernie Eves might just be the fellow to set this province straight.
"Personally, I feel we haven't got a Grade-A apple in the barrel, but we come pretty close with him.
"The lesser of the two evils, the way I see it."
In nearby Orangeville, the largest centre in the riding, Liberal candidate Dan Yake doesn't see it that way at all. He woke up this clear Tuesday morning to polls that indicated he might be part of a winning team -- might even, if the previously unthinkable were to happen, be part of that team.
A year ago, when the young councillor won the nomination, he knew he was immediately being dismissed as a token candidate to be put up against Eves.
Eves might have been parachuted into this riding after he won the leadership, but he was also Premier, and that, surely, counted for something significant.
"I wasn't blind to that," says Yake. "There was a brief moment when I was nominated that I sat down with my wife Kim and said, 'What have I done?'
"But after six months of campaigning and talking to people, I started to feel this new confidence and I started to think, 'Sure I'm in tough, but I may give him a run for his money.'
"And now, lately, I get this strange feeling that I could really, really give him a run for his money.
"Don't get me wrong. I didn't wake up this morning and say, 'We've won!' or anything like that.
"All I know for sure is I'm going to work like I'm 10 points behind."
Back down in Erin, Bruce Tupling shakes his head and leans further back in his familiar chair.
"I agree with what John Diefenbaker said," he says, checking the toothpick for wear. " 'Polls are for dogs.' "