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The Big Fifty seats that will steer the country

Will Stephen Harper win his coveted Conservative majority government? Or will Michael Ignatieff pull off a Liberal upset? The Big Fifty will tell the tale.

In this spring campaign, 308 federal ridings are at stake, but fewer than 90 could possibly change hands, according to an analysis of Canada's electoral map conducted by Globe and Mail reporters. In most of the remaining seats, the incumbent is almost certain to win again, barring a seismic shift in support for one party or another.

In particular, 50 ridings from Vancouver Island to St. John's will ultimately swing the election. In many of these seats, the Conservatives hope to capitalize on their efforts to attract new Canadians, seniors, women and suburban voters, delivering the net gain of 12 MPs that will lead to a majority government.

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Others are ridings that the Liberals have targeted for a return to power. There are ridings the NDP need to defend and hope to gain. And there are ridings that Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe is convinced he can wrest from both Liberals and Conservatives.

The outcome in these crucial contests will tell us whether the next government is Conservative, Liberal or - who knows? - a coalition.

To catch shifts in support as they happen, The Globe will deepen its focus on the battleground ridings with an even sharper look at six particularly interesting contests. They are among the most hotly contested in the country, and will serve as a barometer for how the battle is unfolding.

All of the Big Fifty electoral districts will receive special attention in the weeks to come. (If you live in one of them, expect visits from your local candidates early and often.) At you will find information on these and all 308 seats that make up the House of Commons as the campaign progresses. And we will update projections of how the key contests are faring.

But let's start here, with the half-dozen races that Globe reporters across the country will be watching and regularly reporting on in the weeks to come.

How we picked the Big 50

For the 2011 general election, Ottawa bureau chief John Ibbitson surveyed all 308 ridings and drew up a preliminary list of 50 that deserved special scrutiny.

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The call was based on how national issues might play there, how the riding voted in the past and what candidate was challenging which incumbent.

That list was then vetted and revised by The Globe's parliamentary correspondents, based on their knowledge of regions, political parties and past elections. Reporters from national bureaus then weighed in, offering street-level insight from Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Quebec City and Halifax.

The final tally reflects the collective wisdom of Globe journalists from across the country. They'll be helping us keep on top of the Big 50 throughout the campaign.

(Click on the 'Infographic' sidebar on the left-hand side of the article to read more about the 50 ridings)

or learn more about each riding in a map: 50 ridings that could decide the election

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About the Author

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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