By Rod Nickel, Allison Lampert and David Ljunggren
WINNIPEG, Manitoba/MONTREAL (Reuters) - Canada's federal election race is so close that even a few swing districts on the western Prairies, a region usually hostile to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals, may be key to his hopes to stay in power, analysts say.
Trudeau, 49, called an election for Sept. 20 two years early, gambling that the country's successful COVID-19 vaccination campaign would help him hold the 155 seats he currently holds and pick up 15 more, which would allow him to govern without opposition support in the 338-seat House of Commons.
But he appears destined to come up short, according to polls, and a minority government for either the Liberals or Erin O'Toole's Conservatives is most likely, said Darrell Bricker, CEO of pollster Ipsos Public Affairs.
"They've not been able to shake that initial disappointment for Canadians (with) the way the election was called and why it was called," Bricker said of the Liberals, noting that Canada is entering a fourth pandemic wave. "It's really stuck to the Prime Minister personally."
A Nanos Research survey of 1,200 people for CTV on Monday put the Liberals at 34.1% popular support and the Conservatives at 32%, a reversal from a day earlier, when Liberals were at 33.4% compared with 34.9% for Conservatives.
With the race nearly a dead heat, potential swing parliamentary constituencies have emerged across the country. The Liberals are fighting 20 "toss-up" races and the Conservatives 19, according to 338Canada.com, an election projection site.
At least two Conservative seats in Calgary, heart of the country's oil industry, are in play for the Liberals, said Lori Williams, associate professor of political science at Mount Royal University in Calgary. One Conservative constituency in Edmonton is also up for grabs, according to 338Canada.com.
"These Alberta seats become pretty important, because (the election) could come down to a handful," Williams said.
Alberta shut out the Liberals in 2019 amid fears that their climate change policies would undermine the oil industry. But those fears have abated due to Trudeau's support for the sector, Williams said.
The Conservatives' best opportunity to win lies in the commuter communities around Toronto, referred to by their telephone area code, 905, Bricker said.
The Liberals dominated the 905 in 2019, but are on track only to split its roughly 75 seats with the Conservatives, raising doubts about the Liberals' retaining power, he said.
Costas Menegakis, executive of a logistics company and the Conservative candidate for Richmond Hill, said fears of rising taxes and mortgage rates are driving support to his party.
"I think the Prime Minister miscalculated his potential fortunes" in calling the election, he said.
The left-of-center New Democratic Party (NDP) is challenging for Liberal seats in Toronto itself, leaving the ruling party under siege on both political flanks, Bricker said.
To offset possible losses, Liberals are eyeing breakthroughs in Quebec and the West.
In Quebec, nine constituencies, mostly held by the Bloc Quebecois - a Quebec separatist party - could fall to the Liberals, said Philippe Fournier, creator of 338Canada.com. The predominantly French-speaking province accounts for almost a quarter of the seats in the House.
The Liberals are trying to flip constituencies like Trois-Rivières, where a once-fierce push to separate Quebec from Canada has taken a backseat to issues like climate change, infrastructure and labor shortages.
When former newspaper opinion writer Martin Francoeur launched his Liberal candidacy for Trois Rivières, a constituency last held by the party in 1984, he was flanked by two cabinet ministers. Trudeau and party leaders from the Bloc and Conservatives have also visited to court voters.
"The Liberal party has a lot of hope for Trois-Rivières," Francoeur said.
The Conservatives are eyeing to flip one Quebec electoral district from the Bloc, Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix, in Quebec, along with four Maritime districts, a Tory strategist said.
But the Liberals like their chances in three British Columbia constituencies they do not currently hold, a party source said.
The Pacific province, however, as usual, is a wild card where four parties can be competitive, including the NDP and Greens.
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Steve Scherer and Dan Grebler)