Conservatives set to hold on to power in debt-ridden Canadian province of Ontario

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks during his tour of Honda Canada Manufacturing production facilities in Alliston, Ontario, Canada March 16, 2022. REUTERS/Cole Burston/File Photo

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OTTAWA, June 2 (Reuters) – Canada’s right-wing Progressive Conservatives are expected to retain power in Ontario, the country’s most populous province, on Thursday, helped by a promise to increase spending despite massive debt loads.

A series of polls have shown the party led by Doug Ford has a clear lead over the opposition New Democrats and Liberals, both of whom are vying for the center-left vote. An Ekos Research poll released on Sunday gives the Progressive Conservatives a seven-point lead over its 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, they held 67.

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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).

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

In a pre-election budget in April, Ford promised 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. course 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.

Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats have 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 Corp showed the Liberals and New Democrats each had just a 1% chance of winning.

($1 = 1.2658 Canadian dollars)

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

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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