Dalton McGuintywon a second majority government for the Liberals in Ontarioon Wednesday night, a triumphfora party that earlier expressedfears ofa drop to minority status.
The Liberalsmanaged toincrease their numbers from the67 seats they had coming into the campaign. By late Thursday morning, with 99.9 per cent of polls counted, theywereelected in71of the province's107 seats.
Progressive Conservatives were elected in 26 ridings and New Democrats in 10.
"Thank you, Ontario," a grinning McGuinty said to cheering supporters.
"The people of Ontario have spoken tonight with clarity and with purpose. They have chosen the Ontario Liberal Party to govern for four more years."
PCLeader John Tory suffered defeat in his own riding, putting his leadership in doubt in the weeks ahead. Aside from the Liberals, the only party to make significant gains were the Greens, who didn't win any seats but more than doubled their share of the popular vote.
Several weeks before the election campaign drew to a close, polls suggested a tight race and McGuinty mused about a minority government.
The victory marks the first time in exactly 70 years that Ontario's Liberals havewon a back-to-back majority. Mitch Hepburn won his second majority in October 1937.
Less than an hour after polls closed at 9 p.m. ET (8 p.m. CT) on Wednesday, it became clear that McGuinty had also secured his riding of Ottawa South, which he has represented since 1990.
In a significantloss for the party, Liberal cabinet minister Caroline Di Coccoconceded defeatin hersouthwestern Ontario seat of Sarnia-Lambton to PC candidate Bob Bailey.
'Broken promises'jabs fail tohurt Liberals
The Liberal win comes despite a lengthy campaign during which McGuinty faced an onslaughtof attacks from the two main opposition parties, with the New Democrats and Progressive Conservatives repeatedly accusinghim of "broken promises."
Despite that, McGuinty extended his thanks in his victory speechto both Tory and NDP Leader Howard Hampton "for accepting the challenge of public life."
However, hetook several jabs at Tory's proposal to extend public funding to faith-based private schools, an issue that quickly came to dominate the campaign.
"We do not want to see our children divided," McGuinty told supporters gathered at Ottawa's Fairmont Chateau Laurier. "We want publicly funded schools, not public funds for private schools."
'We've got that behind us'
In an interview following his speech, the premier was asked what to expect from his government this time around, given that he broke a 2003 election campaign vow not to raise taxes in the early part of his last term.
McGuinty introduced a health tax at that time, saying it was necessary because of a deficit inherited from the previous Conservative government, which the latter government failed to disclose.
In the 2007 campaign, McGuinty again vowed not to raise taxes, and he told CBC that was a promise he would keep.
"Nobody here is hiding a $5.6-billion deficit," said McGuinty.
He added that a new law has been introduced requiring the auditor to disclose the province's financial state in advance of an election. "We've got that behind us," he said.
Tory hopes tostay on
"Even people who don't agree with Dalton McGuinty respect him as an individual," former federal Liberal minister John Manley told CBC News. "I think the aggressiveness of other leaders in this campaign may have turned away potential support they could have won."
In a blow to his party and hisleadership, Tory was defeated in the riding of Don Valley West by incumbent Kathleen Wynne, who served as education minister under the Liberals.
Despite expectations hemight step down, Tory said he would continue to serve as leader of the party, though he admitted disappointment with election results.
Tory was weighed down early in the campaign by his call for publicly-funded religious schools. A promise nine days before the end of the campaign to put the issue to a free vote failed to give him the last-minute boost he needed.
One high-profile loss for the party was in the Mississauga South riding, where incumbent and former Liberal Tim Peterson was running for the Conservatives.
A backbencher and younger brother of former premier David Peterson, he lost to the Liberal candidate, Charles Sousa.
Greens, NDPgain in popular vote
As far as the smallerparties go, the Green party made a notable breakthrough. The partywas pollingabout eight per cent of the popular vote, with most of the polls accounted for — more than twice the support held by the party in the 2003 election.
However,none of the party's candidates gained a seat, including leader Frank de Jong, who ran in Toronto's Davenport riding.
Referring to the surge in the popular vote for the Greens, political commentator Allan Gregg of Harris/Decima said: "It is kind of a protest vote, but it sends a message to the main parties."
Meanwhile, the NDP took nearly 17 per cent of the popular vote, up from 14.7 per cent in 2003.
The NDP'sHampton was re-elected in his riding ofKenora-Rainy River, which he has heldsince 1987, but the party's seat count did not appear to change.
In a speech to supporters in aFort Frances hotel,Hamptontook aim at the faith-based schools issue for supplanting issues that he said really matter to the people, such as fixing the school funding formula and boosting the minimum wage.
Teary-eyed, the NDP leader said he loves the job and will stay on for the short term, but hinted he will be re-evaluating in the months to come.
"But there's a bigger issue, which I'll decide after talking with people in the party and sitting down and talking to my kids as well."
Allan Gregg is the chairman of Harris/Decima, and is not with Strategic Counsel, as originally reported.Oct 11, 2007 11:00 AM ET