TORONTO - Kathleen Wynne powered Ontario's minority Liberals past a legacy of scandal Thursday, staving off aggressive assaults from the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats for an unexpected majority win and a fourth straight mandate.
Despite a hard-fought campaign rife with accusations of corruption and incompetence, jaundiced voters gave Wynne's government a fresh chance, making her the province's first elected female premier.
And in an election that was supposed to be Tim Hudak's to lose, they delivered a stinging rebuke to the Conservatives, robbing the party of 10 seats and forcing its leader to step down in defeat.
Defying almost all predictions, Wynne earned a convincing win both in the popular vote and the number of seats, paving the way for her party to govern on their own for the first time in three years — and she did it by moving to the left as her opponents moved in the opposite direction.
The ballot-counting began amid palpable uncertainty about whether the snap election, called more than a month ago, would change anything. Even the premier herself appeared taken aback at the magnitude of her win.
"Whoa! We did it!" a beaming, gleeful Wynne told cheering supporters in Toronto.
"You have put your trust in us and we will not let you down."
Wynne said she would ask the lieutenant-governor to reconvene the legislature within 20 days to reintroduce the very same Liberal budget that triggered the campaign when the NDP refused to support it.
Within an hour of the result becoming clear, Hudak — whose austerity platform of smaller government and public-sector job cuts ran smack into a voter brick wall — said he'd resign as leader as soon as a successor is chosen.
"We did not receive the results that we wanted," Hudak told dejected supporters at his headquarters in Grimsby, Ont.
"(But) nobody should take this result as an endorsement of the status quo."
Hudak said he would stay on as a member of the legislature and continue to represent his Niagara-area riding.
The Liberals easily beat the Tories in the popular vote amid a solid rejection of Hudak's pledge to slash 100,000 public-sector jobs as part of a shock deficit-tackling therapy.
They won 59 seats, Hudak's Conservatives took 27 and the New Democrats 21. At dissolution, the Liberals held 48 seats in the 107-seat legislature, the Tories 37 and the NDP 21, with one seat vacant.
At Liberal headquarters in Toronto, stony-faced tension gradually gave way to excitement and delight as it became clear that Wynne had taken the night. A burst of applause erupted when Hudak announced his resignation.
Speaking to a sparse crowd of about 200 supporters in Hamilton, Andrea Horwath — widely pilloried for her lurch to the right and seemingly nebulous campaign — said she would stay on to lead her third-place party.
"New Democrats are fighters and we're going to keep fighting for the things that matter most for families," said Horwath, who seemed close to tears.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper congratulated Wynne, saying he looked forward to working with her.
Millions of voters had spent Thursday casting judgment on the scandal-plagued minority Liberal government as Wynne, who became party leader 16 months ago, sought her first mandate.
As results tumbled in, it quickly became apparent that she had made her case for a renewed Liberal mandate by promising a fiscally responsible but progressive government.
Wynne spent much of the campaign staving off attacks related to decisions made by her predecessor Dalton McGuinty, which included the cancellation of two gas plants at an estimated cost to the public of $1.1 billion.
Both Hudak and Horwath were relentless in branding the Liberals as corrupt and incapable of fiscal responsibility, pointing to the province's $12.5-billion deficit.
Their campaigns, however, were anything but plain sailing.
Hudak ran into trouble with his pledge to create one million jobs — widely panned by economists as based on faulty math — and his promise to cut public-sector jobs at a time the provincial economy is sputtering.
Yet he persisted, positioning himself as the only plain-speaking leader ready to tell voters what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear.
The New Democrats, offering a grab-bag of pocketbook promises such as lower hydro rates and auto-insurance bills, appeared to throw Wynne a lifeline as Horwath tilted her party distinctly to the right.
It was Horwath who triggered the $90-million, 40-day campaign by refusing to support the minority Liberal budget many observers called the most progressive in the province's recent history.
As a result, Wynne fought back by arguing her party was the only option for voters worried a Hudak government would be a throwback to the days of former Tory premier Mike Harris, whose time in office in the mid- to late 1990s was marred by labour and education unrest.
She promised a provincial retirement savings plan along the lines of the Canada Pension Plan along with investments in education and transportation.
A vote for the NDP, Wynne insisted in the last week of the campaign, would be a vote for Hudak.
Horwath had scorned Wynne's overtures to NDP supporters, arguing voters didn't have to choose between the "corrupt" Liberals and the Tories' "crazy" platform.
The campaign grew more petulant as it wound down, with the leaders accusing their rivals of fearmongering and mudslinging while arguing they were presenting a positive message.
Unions, who had come out strongly against Hudak, welcomed the result.
"Ontario voters sent a clear message tonight that they want an Ontario with good jobs, strong public services and healthy communities," said Unifor president Jerry Dias.
"Ontario has clearly rejected Mr. Hudak's offer to race Ontario to the bottom."
The Ontario Federation of Labour echoed the sentiment.
"This should serve as a warning to the Progressive Conservative party that there is no appetite for emulating American Tea Party-style politics in this province," the OFL said in a statement.
Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau congratulated Wynne on the breakthrough that puts her back in the premier's chair, this time with the blessing of voters, not just her party.
More than 9.2 million people were eligible to cast ballots but despite predictions of a low turnout, more than 50 per cent voted this time.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne celebrates on stage with her family after winning the provincial election in Toronto on June 12.
Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne celebrates with supporters at the Liberal's election night headquarters in Toronto, Ont. on June 12.
Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne, centre, celebrates with family members after speaking at the Liberal's election night headquarters in Toronto, Ont. on June 12.
Ontario Progressive Conservative supporters watch the election results at Tim Hudak's campaign head quarters in Grimsby, Ont., on June 12.
Ontario PC supporters watch the results come in at Tim Hudak's election night party in Grimsby, Ontario on June 12.
Ontario PC supporters wait for Tim Hudak's arrival at his election night party in Grimsby, Ontario on June 12.
Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak gives his concession speech at his election night party in Grimsby, Ontario on June 12.
Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak, right, announced that he will be stepping down as party leader after being defeated. His wife Deb Hutton looks on, in Grimsby, Ont., on June 12.
Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak (right) kisses his wife Deb Hutton after giving his concession speech at his election night party in Grimsby, Ontario on June 12.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, right, is introduced by NDP Member of Parliament for Hamilton Centre David Christopherson to speak to supporters at the NDP election night party in Stoney Creek, Ont. June 12.
A sparse crowd watches television coverage as election results are tallied at the Ontario NDP election night party for Leader Andrea Horwath in Stoney Creek, Ont. June 12.
<strong>NEXT: Memorable Photos From The Ontario Campaign</strong>
A flyer depicting Ont. PC leader Tim Hudak laughing as he walks away from an exploding hospital is shown. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says the Liberal flyer sent by a Vaughan candidate is "not acceptable." THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak while campaigning at a food truck festival in Whitby, Ont. on Saturday, May 10, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
'Where The Gas Plants Went'
Ontario Premier and Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne reads to a full day kindergarten class at Westwood Public School in Guelph, Ontario on Wednesday May 14 , 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
But Seriously... A Billion Dollars
PC Leader Tim Hudak gestures to the the 800-megawatt gas-fired power plant scrapped by the previous Liberal administration, as he talks to the press in Mississauga on Sunday May 18 , 2014. Hudak continues his election campaign. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Got This Thing In The Bag
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath purchases groceries at Eraa Supermarket while campaigning in Toronto, Ont. on Tuesday, May 13, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne drives a tractor with instruction from farmer Sandra Vos (right) at a campaign event in Paris, Ontario on Tuesday May 20, 2014, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ontario Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne shows off a pair of boxing gloves she received as a gift, while her partner Jane Rounthwaite (left) looks on in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak, hugs his new born baby Maitland Hudak after greeting supporters at his headquarters during a campaign stop in Grimsby, Ont., on Monday, May 12, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Don't Have A Cow
Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath answers media questions at a campaign stop at the monument to Springbank Snow Countess, world champion lifetime butterfat producing cow, in Woodstock, Ont., Friday, May 9, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley
It's Like You're My Mirror...
Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak holds a town hall meeting in a hair salon in Pickering, Ontario on Tuesday May 27 , 2014, as he continues his election campaign. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Reunited.. And It Feels So Good
Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak eats lunch with Foreign Minister John Baird as he attends an event at the Chateau Laurier during an election campaign stop in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 13, 2014. Ontario goes to the polls June 12th. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is seen behind a display of tomatoes while shopping at Eraa Supermarket in Toronto, Ont. on Tuesday, May 13, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
HA HA HA!
Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak, centre, laughs before he makes an announcement at a packaging plant about creating 40,000 jobs in Ontario with affordable energy during a campaign stop in Smithville, Ont., on Monday, May 12, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
HA HA HA HA!
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne talks to members of Toronto's Leaside Lawn Bowling Club before addressing the media as she begins her campaign in Ontario's provincial election on Saturday May 3, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak jokes with a man about his ice cream cone at a food truck festival during a campaign stop in Whitby, Ont. on Saturday, May 10, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
Ontario Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne pulls a beer at a campaign event in Sudbury, Ontario on Tuesday May 27, 2014, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
In A Glass Case Of Emotion
Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak is seen through a reflection in a window while campaigning at Spin Desserts Cafe and Bistro in Burlington, Ont. on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
What's So Funny?
Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne holds Etobicoke-North MPP Dr. Shafiq Qaadri's eight-month-old baby Salman at a campaign stop in Toronto on Monday, May 12, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
I've Got This...
Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne practices using a drill during a campaign stop at the Carpenters' Union Local 27 Training Centre in Vaughan, Ont. on Monday, May 12, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
Manual Labour Is FUN
Campaigning PC Leader Tim Hudak laughs as he tries out a nail gun as he visits a residential construction site while campaigning in Milton, Ont., on Monday, May 26, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Little Help Please?
Ontario Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne helps a health care worker up off the floor during a group photo at a campaign event in Toronto on Monday June 2, 2014, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ontario Conservative Party Leader Tim Hudak buys flowers for Mothers Day with his daughter Miller at Growers Flower Market on Avenue Rd. in Toronto on Sunday, May 11, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Vincent Elkaim
That's How I Bowl
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne bowls a ball to formally open Toronto's Leaside Lawn Bowling Club's season as she begins her campaign in Ontario's Provincial election on Saturday May 3, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
They Call Me DJ Cut & Scrap
PC Leader Tim Hudak talks to the media as he sits at a mixing desk at Metalworks Studios, as he hits the campaign trail in Ontario's Provincial election in Mississauga on Monday May 5 , 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
The Guy Behind Me Is All Kinds Of Thirsty
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne rests after a run in Milton, Ontario on Monday May 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak speaks to a lunchtime meeting of the Chamber of Commerce in London, Ontario, Friday, May 23, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Geoff Robins
Emely Tscholy and Blaine Connolly protest quietly against "scandals and waste" outside a rally for Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne in Kitchener, Ont., on Sunday, June 8, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Premier Kathleen Wynne weighs baby Lucas at a family health care unit on a campaign stop in Lindsay, Ont. on Friday, May 30, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Thornhill
I Now Pronounce You...
Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, centre, and Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak speak after taking part in the Ontario provincial leaders debate in Toronto, Tuesday June 3, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/POOL-Mark Blinch
UP NEXT: Federal Conservatives vs. Ontario Liberals
Ontario Liberal leader <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/kathleen-wynne/" target="_blank">Kathleen Wynne</a> has taken a number of shots at <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/stephen-harper/" target="_blank">Prime Minister Stephen Harper</a> and his federal Conservatives so far in her campaign. And some federal Tories are firing right back. <em>With files from The Canadian Press</em>
'Stand Up' To Harper
Wynne <a href="http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/05/04/kathleen-wynne-tells-harper-to-move-out-of-the-way-after-pm-calls-ontario-pension-plan-a-payroll-tax/" target="_blank">wasted no time</a> criticizing the Harper government in her first speech after announcing a provincial vote had been called for June 12. Wynne said the priorities of her government are increasingly at odds with Ottawa. "We need a premier who is willing to stand up to Stephen Harper," she said. "The federal government pours billions of dollars into the oilsands, but when it comes to the Ring of Fire, Stephen Harper has not acted."
Ontario Pension Plan? Meh.
Just hours after the provincial election was called, Harper suggested Wynne's proposal for an Ontario Retirement Pension Plan won't be a hit at the polls. When asked if Wynne could win the election with the plan, the prime minister said <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/05/02/ontario-pension-plan-stephen-harper_n_5255152.html" target="_blank">increasing taxes isn't the way to go.</a>
Wynne To Harper: 'Move Out Of The Way'
Wynne then called Harper's comments about her pension plan "unusual" and told reporters she's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/05/03/kathleen-wynne-stephen-harper_n_5258030.html" target="_blank">not in the race to run against the prime minister.</a> "The first choice would have been to have an improvement and enhancement to the Canada Pension Plan, but the federal government is not interested in doing that," she said. "So quite frankly I think that if Prime Minister Harper isn't interested in partnering with us then he should move out of the way."
Say It Ain't So, Joe
Finance Minister Joe Oliver joined the fray, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/05/03/kathleen-wynne-joe-oliver-ontario-election_n_5258700.html" target="_blank">ripping the budget Wynne tabled</a> a day before calling the election. The spending plan is, essentially, the platform on which Ontario Liberals are running. "This is the route to economic decline, not the route to economic growth or job creation," he told CBC Radio's The House. And Oliver made clear he's also <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/05/03/kathleen-wynne-joe-oliver-ontario-election_n_5258700.html" target="_blank">no fan of Wynne's pension plan,</a> calling it a $3.5 billion tax on "workers and businesses" that will kill jobs in Ontario. "This isn't the time to do it," he said.
And Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/05/03/kathleen-wynne-joe-oliver-ontario-election_n_5258700.html" target="_blank">told CBC News </a>that Wynne's comments about alleged Tory inaction on the Ring of Fire file were "nonsense."
Wynne didn't care much for Oliver weighing in on her budget. In fact, the Ontario Liberal leader <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ontario-votes-2014/kathleen-wynne-harper-taking-over-the-voice-of-tories-in-ontario-1.2630898" target="_blank">accused Harper</a> of "taking over the Conservative voice in the Ontario election."
Sorry (But Not Really)
Oliver later denied to reporters he was trying to intrude on the Ontario election, but was careful to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/05/05/joe-oliver-ontario-pension-plan_n_5269500.html" target="_blank">repeat his earlier criticism about Wynne's pension proposal.</a> "It's not the time, in my opinion, to impose this type of tax when the Ontario economy is so fragile," he said.
Who Wants To Talk About Harper's Pension?
Wynne then singled out Harper by saying his pension is about 10 times the maximum payout available under the CPP. "Stephen Harper when he retires is going to have about 10 times that amount in his pension," she said. "So the reality is that if he doesn't believe that the Canada Pension Plan should be enhanced, then he should move out of the way and let Ontario do its work."