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Leaders sprint to the finish as Ontario election campaign draws to a close


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Leaders sprint to the finish as Ontario election campaign draws to a close

The fate of Ontario is now in the hands of more than 10 million eligible voters.

After polls close at 9 p.m. on Thursday, Ontarians will learn who will govern Canada’s largest province in a time of rising inflation and as the economy emerges from a two-year COVID-19 pandemic that left 13,300 people dead.

Doug Ford, leading in every public-opinion survey as he vies for a second term, spent the final night of the 29-day election campaign rallying supporters in his riding of Etobicoke North.

A confident Ford, who earlier in the day was canvassing in Brampton and Mississauga away from media cameras, was hopeful voters would give his Progressive Conservatives another four years in power.

“I can feel it, you can feel it, our message is resonating,” Ford thundered at an evening rally that attracted a few hundred Conservatives to the Toronto Congress Centre, including cabinet ministers Paul Calandra, Kinga Surma and Caroline Mulroney.

“We’re taking nothing for granted. We’re fighting for every vote,” added Ford, appearing in front of a giant Ontario flag and reciting a list of promises from building Highway 413 to temporarily reducing the gas tax, hiring more personal support workers for nursing homes and raising the minimum wage he froze in 2018.

“We have the momentum.”

But NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, helming her party for a fourth provincewide campaign, and rookie Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca were hopeful they could thwart the Tories’ dreams of a second majority government.

“We’ve been in Conservative ridings,” Horwath said Wednesday in Brampton, part of a whistle-stop marathon that included stops in Cambridge, Brantford, Freelton, Etobicoke and downtown Toronto.

“That’s where I’ve been spending the vast majority of my time during this election because we came second in a lot of those ridings” in the 2018 election, she said, in a reminder to Liberal and Green voters.

“We know that if people want a premier that’s on their side, that works for them each and every day, this time if they vote NDP they’ll get that premier and we’ll defeat Doug Ford.”

Del Duca, for his part, was imploring progressive voters to stick with the Liberals — and signalling he will remain as leader even if he fails to win his riding of Vaughan-Woodbridge.

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“Look, regardless of the result tomorrow, I’m not going anywhere. We’re just getting started,” he told reporters at Albert’s Real Jamaican Foods, a St. Clair Avenue West favourite since 1986, where he promoted his pledge to remove the provincial portion of the HST from restaurant meals and supermarket prepared foods under $20.

Despite local polls showing Del Duca might lose Vaughan-Woodbridge again to Tory Michael Tibollo, a twice-demoted junior cabinet minister, the Grit leader stressed he was “excited about what the future has in store.”

Earlier in the day, in Humber River-Black Creek, an NDP-held Toronto riding that appears to be in play, he said “only way to stop the Ford Conservatives is to vote Liberal in this election.”

“Some of our neighbours might be thinking about voting for the Green Party or for the NDP, (but) I would urge those who are giving that consideration to take a look at our plan,” said Del Duca, who was buoyed by a Mississauga rally Tuesday night that drew some 350 supporters.

Green Leader Mike Schreiner spent the penultimate day of the campaign in Brantford, St. Thomas, London and Kitchener before returning to his home riding of Guelph on Thursday.

Greg Essensa, Ontario’s chief electoral officer, said earlier this week that 1,066,545 voters cast ballots at advance polls during the 10-day period that ended Saturday.

That’s 9.92 per cent of eligible voters — up from 6.8 per cent of eligible voters over the five days of advanced voting in 2018.

Officials from the different parties are predicting a lower turnout than the 57 per cent four years ago, which was the highest in a generation, suggesting that as many as one-fifth of the votes expected this year have already been cast.

Elections Ontario has more than 7,000 polling stations across 124 ridings, and about 93 per cent of voters will cast ballots at locations with faster, more efficient electronic counting.

At dissolution of the legislature on May 4, there were 67 Tory MPPs, 38 New Democrats, seven Liberals, six Independents, one Green, one New Blue, one Ontario Party, and three vacancies in the 124-member house.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

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