The Conservatives have pulled ahead in Ontario ridings outside Toronto that were close fights in 2006, and a harder line from Leader Stephen Harper may be helping, a new poll finds.

"We've got some very interesting results in terms of the '519' and '905' ridings that we've been following," pollster Peter Donolo of The Strategic Counsel told CTV Newsnet's Mike Duffy Live on Friday.

His firm is conducting the polling of battleground ridings -- 45 across Canada, 20 in Ontario -- for CTV and The Globe and Mail. The polling isn't tracking any ridings in the city of Toronto.

In the '905' belt surrounding Toronto, the vote breaks down as follows:

  • Conservatives - 48 per cent
  • Liberals - 34 per cent
  • NDP - 13 per cent
  • Green - 5 per cent

The polling was conducted from Sept. 20 to 25. The sample size is 207, and the margin of error is plus or minus 6.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

That puts the Conservatives about nine points higher than they were in the 2006 election, Donolo said, with the Liberals down about six points from that time.

He noted the backdrop to those numbers is Harper's tougher talk on so-called artistic elites and the need for tougher sentencing of young offenders.

"(Bloc Quebecois Leader) Gilles Duceppe talked this being red meat for the hardliners. Well if this is red meat, there's a lot of carnivores in the 905 around Toronto who like what they see," Donolo said.

"These numbers have gone up quite a bit in the last week and it's attributable in part to the harder line that Mr. Harper is taking," he said.

Voters might also be reacting negatively to the size and nature of the platform that Liberal Leader Stephane Dion released this week.

Depending on how you count, there are 19 ridings in the GTA outside Toronto. Of those, the Liberals hold 15 and the Conservatives four. But the Tories came within 800 votes of winning in Oakville in 2006.

Oakville is considered one of the battleground ridings, along with Halton, Mississauga South and Burlington.

On Saturday, CTV's Graham Richardson told Newsnet that the 905 area isn't Liberal bedrock, and that former Ontario premier Mike Harris's Progressive Conservative party did well in the region during the mid and late 1990s.

In Toronto on Friday, Dion noted that many members of the Harper government -- such as Health Minister Tony Clement, Environment Minister John Baird and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty -- were also ministers in the Harris regime, Richardson said.

519 ridings

In the 519 ridings of southwest Ontario, the Tories also lead:

  • Conservatives - 41 per cent
  • Liberals - 30 per cent
  • NDP - 18 per cent
  • Green - 10 per cent

The polling was conducted between Sept. 20 and 25. The sample size is 165, and the margin of error is plus or minus 7.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Donolo said the Tories are up six points over 2006, while the Liberals are down seven points.

"The one saving grace in these ridings is the migration of the Liberal vote has been less directly to the Conservatives than it has been to other opposition parties," he said, noting the relatively strong support for the Greens.

"So the Liberals have some hope here in these 519 of pressing that red button behind the broken glass and saying, 'Hey, if you really want to stop Harper ... vote Liberal," he said.

In 905, the Liberal vote has been going to the Conservatives, Donolo said.

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion is in Hamilton and St. Catharines on Saturday. Both are '905' ridings. The Liberals lost St. Catharines to the Tories by only 246 votes in 2006. Richardson said Dion is trying to hammer Harper on the economy.

In the other Ontario battleground ridings, the Tories are also solidly ahead:

  • Conservatives - 40 per cent
  • Liberals - 27 per cent
  • NDP - 19 per cent
  • Green - 14 per cent

The polling was conducted between Sept. 20 and 25. The sample size is 311, and the margin of error is plus or minus 5.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Many of those ridings elsewhere in Ontario promise to be more of a three-way fight, Donolo said.

The Ontario battleground ridings

Parry Sound-Muskoka, Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, St. Catharines, Hamilton East-Stoney Creek, Brant, Thunder Bay-Superior North, Oakville, Thunder Bay-Rainy River, Huron-Bruce, London-Fanshaw, Ottawa-Orl�ans, Simcoe North, London West, Barrie, Kitchener-Conestoga, Halton, Peterborough, Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing, Burlington, Mississauga South,