TORONTO (Reuters) - The Progressive Conservative Party, led by populist Doug Ford, is on track for a sweeping victory in Canada's most populous province, Canadian networks projected on Thursday, as Ford declared the province is "open for business."
Ford's party will win the majority of seats in the province of Ontario's legislature, ending 15 years of Liberal rule and giving him broad powers to pass legislation, the networks forecast.
"We have taken back Ontario. We have delivered a government that is for the people," said Ford, promising economic growth and prosperity in a speech to supporters in Toronto.
"The party with the taxpayers' money is over - it's done."
Ford, 53, is the brother of the late mayor of Toronto Rob Ford, who made international news in 2013 when he admitted to smoking crack cocaine.
Ford's stronger than expected showing and the Liberals' significant losses to the New Democrats may worry supporters of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's federal Liberal party, up for re-election in 2019.
CBC News projected the Progressive Conservative Party to win 76 out of the 124 seats in the province's legislature, with the New Democrats in second place with 39 seats.
With about a third of Canada's population of 36 million, Ontario is the country's economic engine and home to its biggest city, Toronto. It has one of the largest sub-sovereign debts in the world, at nearly C$350 billion (201 billion pounds) in March.
"This election outcome addresses a number of key concerns in the business sector - a pause in minimum wage increases; a number of measures to address energy costs, most significantly scrapping the cap-and-trade programme; and tax rate reductions," said Robert Kavcic, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets.
Blunt and combative with the media, Ford has drawn comparisons with U.S. President Donald Trump, although he has tried to appeal to voters in the immigrant communities that sway elections in many Toronto suburbs.
"I do think there's a bit of spillover from populism in the United States that could have washed over the Ontario election," said Jonathan Rose, a professor at Queen's University.
"It's hard to believe that someone who has never held office other than as a municipal councillor ... is elected to lead the largest economy in a G7 country," he added.
The contest in Canada's industrial and manufacturing heartland became a fight between Ford and the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) after Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne, premier since 2013, dropped to a distant third in opinion polls.
Wynne, the first female premier and first openly gay premier the province has had, said she would resign as leader of the Liberal party.
While seen as generally business friendly, the PC party never released a fully costed platform, and promised to cut taxes and find some C$6 billion in efficiencies without eliminating jobs, leaving some bond investors uncertain that they will improve the province's fiscal health.
As Canadian media projected a Ford victory, investors were seeking details of his economic policies.
Both the centrist Liberal party and the left-leaning NDP campaigned on expanding social services, especially childcare and health coverage.
Ford, who served on Toronto's city council when his brother was mayor, has spent much of his life running the family's label business.
His campaign was hit with a series of controversies, including allegations from his brother's widow that he mismanaged the family business and separate accusations that he interfered with a party nomination fight. Ford denied both allegations.
(Reporting by Allison Martell; Editing by Denny Thomas and Darren Schuettler)