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905 no longer Tory stronghold

From Friday's Globe and Mail

Woodbridge, Ont. — Hours before the votes were counted, Greg Sorbara was already confident of victory.

He buzzed around his campaign headquarters in Woodbridge yesterday morning making phone calls and speaking to volunteers, at times in Italian, as he snacked on an apple.

"It's a unique kind of unease. The result is not known until the votes are counted, so yeah, I have a few jitters, but I'm feeling very comfortable," Mr. Sorbara said, sitting down briefly for an interview.

He is known for scoring the breakthrough victory in June, 2001, in the Vaughan-King-Aurora riding, that proved the Liberals could take seats in the Toronto suburbs. The prosperous 905 area-code region was said to hold the key to the election victory.

The Progressive Conservatives had maintained a stronghold in the 905 ridings, using it as their base of success.

Last night, 905 was a battleground. Mr. Sorbara won his seat, but the Liberals didn't sweep through all the 905 ridings.

The Conservatives went into the election holding all but one of 19 seats in the 905 area. But this time around, the Liberals won 12 seats, while the Conservatives had seven.

The Liberals were able to oust David Tsubouchi in Markham and Tony Clement in Brampton West-Mississauga, but were unable to defeat Cam Jackson in Burlington and Jim Flaherty in Whitby-Ajax.

The residents of Woodbridge, Mr. Sorbara's riding, seemed tired of the eight-year-old Conservative government and were happy to see the Liberals win. The residents are concerned about health care, education and gridlock, issues that the Conservatives haven't tackled well, they say.

"It's time to let somebody new in," Mike Lastella said as he flipped through a magazine at a Chapters bookstore. He voted Liberal. "I don't really trust the other guys. It's more of a gut feeling."

Michael Clements, who is retired, said the Ernie Eves government has taken away too much from hospitals and schools. "I don't like the way this last bunch has looked after schools and teachers," he said. "It's time for a change."

Mr. Clements shook his head over the Tories' joke gone awry that labelled Mr. McGuinty "an evil, reptilian kitten-eater from another planet."

"I took great exception to the personal attacks on the opponent," he said. "You can discuss his politics, you can discuss his platform, but don't shoot at him."

Inside Mr. Sorbara's campaign office, just north of Highway 7, there was much excitement yesterday. Volunteers were on the phone, helping residents locate local polling stations. Posters of Dalton McGuinty and Mr. Sorbara were plastered on the walls.

Taking a break from answering the phone, Loreta Pavese said her family and friends who once favoured the Tories have turned to the Liberals.

She wore a button, showing her support for Mr. Sorbara. Another button said "Not this time Ernie."

"I appreciate somebody who knows our area, speaks our language and that can communicate with us," said Ms. Pavese, a retiree who lives in Woodbridge. "We're just dissatisfied with the way we're being treated. Seniors are facing long lists [in hospitals], and children are in overcrowded classrooms. We feel that the PC cutbacks have really affected us."

Mr. Sorbara, the party's president and campaign chair, who drove this election's success, said earlier yesterday that the Liberals wouldn't be able to form a government without a good showing in the 905 region.

While driving around his riding — which can take about 45 minutes from one end to the other — he has stopped to talk to residents about what they expect from a new Ontario government. They've told him they want a greater emphasis on health care and education.

But mainly "they want the Ontario government to strike on a new course. They are frankly in some instances appalled at the mismanagement of the Conservative government," he said.

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