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Ontario: Liberal demise greatly exaggerated

Globe and Mail Update

So much for speculation about the end of an era of Liberal dominance in Ontario.

A red tide didn't exactly sweep across the traditional party stronghold, but the Liberals did more than enough to hold back a challenge from Stephen Harper and the Conservatives in the vote-rich province.

The Liberals won 75 Ontario ridings, compared with 24 for the Conservatives and seven for the NDP. Those numbers translate to the Liberals grabbing more than 44.7 per cent of the popular vote in the province.

Ontario's major city centres will stay red, with the Conservatives making almost all of their gains in more rural ridings.

Among the prominent Liberal winners: Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham, hockey hero Ken Dryden, Trade Minister Jim Peterson, Citizenship Minister Judy Sgro, House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken and Indian Affairs Minister Andy Mitchell.

The Liberals faced an uphill struggle from the beginning in Ontario, after Dalton McGuinty's provincial Liberals delivered a hugely unpopular budget six days before Mr. Martin called the election.

That budget broke from a McGuinty government promise not to run a deficit or increase taxes in the province, and opinion polls throughout the campaign showed voters were in the mood to punish the Liberals in favour of the Conservatives on election day.

But discontent with the Grits seemed to change over the last week of campaigning, when Liberal support swung back towards even with the Conservatives.

Monday night's results indicate that Liberal attack ads equating Mr. Harper's fiscal policies with former Tory Premier Mike Harris and warnings that a Conservative government would threaten the Charter of Rights were enough to sway voters.

The Liberal Party held 95 of the province's 103 seats at dissolution, while the Conservatives had four and the NDP had just two.

Mr. Harper is sure to be disappointed with the result in the province after spending 24 of 36 campaign days trying to appeal to voters across Ontario. Some forecasts predicted the Conservatives would take as many as 50 seats.

Former Conservative leadership contender Belinda Stronach won a tight race, but Walter Robinson, ex-chief of Canadian Taxpayers Federation and former Conservative leadership candidate Tony Clement were among the high-profile losses.

The NDP managed to more than triple its seat count, led by party leader Jack Layton's win over Liberal Dennis Mills. Former party leader Ed Broadbent will return to Parliament Hill and Dave Christopherson ousted Revenue Minister Stan Keyes in Hamilton Centre.

There were also setbacks for the NDP, with star candidate and Mr. Layton's wife Olivia Chow losing in the Toronto riding of Trinity Spadina to Liberal Tony Ianno. Former Greenpeace chief Peter Tabuns also lost in the Toronto riding of Beaches-East York to Liberal Maria Minna.

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