TORONTO (Reuters) - Ontario's left-leaning Liberal party has won a fourth straight electoral victory, taking control of the majority of the province's legislature and bucking expectations that at best it would eke out a narrow minority win, Canadian networks projected on Thursday.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, CTV News and Global News all projected a majority government for Premier Kathleen Wynne. She had previously controlled only a plurality of seats, which meant she needed help from opposition parties to pass key legislation.
Wynne has pledged to ramp up spending to stimulate the economy and to create a provincial pension plan, while slaying Ontario's deficit, C$11.3 billion this year, by 2017-18. Speaking to cheering supporters in Toronto on Thursday evening, she said her government would move quickly to pass the budget that had been defeated last month, triggering the vote.
Only days before the election in Canada's most populous province, polls had shown a dead heat between Wynne's government and the austerity-minded Progressive Conservative opposition. [ID:nL2N0OR1DJ]
Ontario, which accounts for some 40 percent of Canada's economy and is home to the country's auto and financial industries, has been battling slow growth and big deficits since the 2008 financial crisis. Its debt sits at C$288 billion.
The election is Wynne's first. She succeeded Dalton McGuinty as premier and party leader early last year after he resigned amid a series of scandals, most notably a costly move to cancel the construction of gas-fired power plants in the run-up to the 2011 election. Opponents have criticized Wynne for supporting the cancellations at the time.
"You have put your trust in us and we will not let you down," Wynne said on Thursday. "We will not take you for granted."
Speaking to his supporters, Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak said he would resign as party leader, but stay on as a member of provincial parliament.
The defeat is Hudak's second as party leader. He had run on a plan to slash corporate taxes, cut 100,000 civil service jobs, and eliminate the province's deficit by 2016-17, a year earlier in the Liberals.
His economic plan failed to garner traction with voters, particularly his pledge to create 1 million jobs over the next eight years, a plan some economists said included serious mathematical errors.
Wynne is Canada's first openly gay premier, and the first woman to lead the province.
"This is a beautiful, inclusive place that we live in, Ontario," she said. "I want our kids to feel that, as they grow up in our schools, and understand what a gift it is to live in a place like this, where anyone can be the premier."
The CBC projected 58 seats for the Liberal party, up from 48 before the election, 27 for the Progressive Conservatives, down from 37, and 20 for the New Democratic Party, which had 21 seats previously. Two ridings were still too close to call late on Thursday evening, and vote counts were not yet official.
(Reporting by Allison Martell and Cameron French; Editing by Eric Walsh and Jeremy Laurence)