All of a sudden, the NDP have become a factor in the election. Talk has shifted in some media circles to the possibility of a Liberal minority and the NDP holding the balance of power. Curious. Could it all be wishful thinking or just idle speculation from a press corp bored with the grub they’re being served on the campaign bus? The mob following Dalton McGuinty, especially the Globe’s Murray Campbell, seemed to take from the Grit leader’s recent musings that he’s comfortable with the idea of heading a minority – maybe too comfortable for someone who says he wants to be premier. Who knew? But let’s crunch the numbers, shall we? The opportunities for NDP gains are fewer and farther between than people think. In the north, where the party is perceived as something of a force, Hampton will hold Rainy-River (he won by 9,000-plus votes in 2003), but Nickelt Belt is far from a lock now that longtime NDP incumbent Shelley Martel has vacated. There are also a few stiff challenges facing the party in Toronto. Paul Ferreira, who won York South-Weston in a byelection by a mere 300 votes, will have to pull off a small miracle to hold on a second time in a riding that is supposed to be a natural for the NDP but has been a Liberal stronghold forever. In Parkdale, Cheri DiNovo, another NDP byelection winner, should be safe – she won by 2,000-plus votes last time. But another strong showing by the Greens here could skim enough votes from DiNovo to give the seat back to the Libs. In the one Hamilton seat the NDP is entertaining victory (Hamilton-Centre), the party will have to overcome a not insignificant 3,000 votes deficit to win. Steelworkers in town are happier knowing that Stelco’s recent sale has secured their jobs for at least the foreseeable future. Where the NDP does have a shot to make a gain is Oshawa, where the popular Sid Ryan has come close twice before. Will the third time be the charm? But for the NDP, the raw numbers still up to more potential losses than wins. We’ll see. The Libs currently hold 67 seats in the Legislature, the Tories 25 and NDP 10. The Grits need 54 for a majority – with redistribution is adding four more seats for a total of 107. The Grits haven’t exactly taken the province by storm, but it seems a long shot, at best, that McGuinty’s gang will lose more than the 13 seats required to bump them down to minority status. There just isn’t the kind of voter anger out there needed to whip up that kind of tide – even with all the broken promises. Tory leader John Tory has been pushing more hot buttons than a short--order cook in hell’s kitchen, and is barely making an impression. When he doesn, it’s usually a bad one. And for all the PCs’ historic populaity with rurual voters in this province, Tory just doesn’t play as well as McGuinty with the farm folk. Still, if any party’s going to be holding the balance of power in a minority come October 11, chances are it’ll be Tory’s crew, not Hampton’s. The good news for Hampton’s crew is that there’s still time to shift the momentum.