Canada’s debt-ridden province of Ontario votes, with Tories leading in polls

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, went to the polls on Thursday, with the right-wing Progressive Conservatives set to hold on to power on a promise to increase spending despite massive debt loads.

The Doug Ford-led party holds a clear lead over the opposition New Democrats and Liberals, who are both vying for the center-left vote. An Ekos Research poll released Sunday gives the Progressive Conservatives a seven-point lead over their closest challenger, the Liberal Party.

Ford, who came to power in 2018 after 15 years of Liberal rule, needs to win 63 seats in the 124-seat provincial legislature to keep his majority. At dissolution, the party held 67.

Some polling stations opened late, up to two hours, due to “incidents such as fires, sewer backups and power outages,” an Elections Ontario spokesperson said. without saying how much or where.

A portal that gives parties information on who has already voted has been hit by “connectivity issues”, the spokesperson added. The parties use this information for their last-minute strategies to avoid the vote, a spokesman for the New Democratic Party told Reuters. The portal was working Thursday afternoon.

Polls close at 9:00 p.m. ET (01:00 GMT, Friday).

Ontario, home to just under 40% of Canada’s 38.2 million people, is Canada’s manufacturing heartland. It is also one of the largest sub-sovereign borrowers in the world, with public debt currently standing at C$418.7 billion ($330.8 billion).

As inflation in Canada hit its highest level in three decades, housing and cost-of-living issues spurred the election campaign.

In a pre-election budget tabled in April, Ford pledged billions of dollars in spending on infrastructure projects and introduced a low-income tax credit, leading to a higher budget deficit in the fiscal year. current than the previous one.

The budget also proposed a slower return to balance than some analysts had expected.

“Day 29, I’m so excited!” Ford, 57, said in a video tweeted Wednesday, referring to the 29th day of his campaign.

With a debt-to-GDP ratio of 40.7%, Ontario’s debt load is higher than the next three most populous provinces and it pays more to borrow in the bond market.

Ford’s popularity plunged in 2020 amid accusations that Ontario messed up the COVID-19 outbreak.

But its fortunes have revived this year, thanks in part to populist measures like the elimination of license plate renewal fees and the expansion of a foreign buyers’ tax on homes.

The NDP’s Andrea Horwath has pledged to create an annual residential property speculation and vacancy tax.

The Liberals, led by Steven Del Duca, have promised to cut public transit fares while imposing a surtax on businesses with annual profits of more than C$1 billion.

A poll tracker maintained by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation showed that the Liberals and New Democrats each had only a 1% chance of winning. to win.

($1 = 1.2658 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; Editing by Denny Thomas and Richard Pullin)

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