Dalton McGuinty successfully repelled a conservative renaissance that has marked recent municipal and federal campaigns in the GTA and spoiled Prime Minister Stephen Harper's dreams of a Tory "hat trick" in Toronto.
At press time, the Liberals were elected or leading in 32 of 44 ridings in the GTA. The Progressive Conservatives were clinging to seven and the NDP five. But the margins in many of those races were less than 5 per cent.
That is a minute change from the seat composition when the writ dropped. Liberals held 33 GTA seats with the PCs occupying seven and the NDP holding the remaining four.
Mr. McGuinty's successful defence of the GTA seemed unlikely mere months ago, when Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives were riding high in local poll numbers and right-wing Mayor Rob Ford was threatening to mobilize his masses against Mr. McGuinty.
Speaking at the Ford family compound in August, Mr. Harper congratulated his counterparts on municipal and federal victories and called on them to "complete the hat trick and do it provincially as well."
But as Mr. Hudak's popularity slid, and Mr. Ford's once-formidable clout declined amid talk of cutbacks and layoffs at city hall, Liberal chances soared in the Toronto ridings the party has dominated since 2003.
The results exceeded the best expectations of some Liberal party hands. "It's one of those things where you're cautiously optimistic," said Steven Del Duca, campaign chair for Vaughan incumbent Greg Sorbara.
The GTA failure was a bitter pill for the provincial PCs, who failed to leverage inroads Mr. Harper's Conservatives made during the federal election in May. Those inroads sunk Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and razed his party's traditional 416 fortress. Mr. Hudak needed a similar blue breakthrough if he were to have any chance at a majority government.
Several battleground ridings in the 905 were pegged as bellwethers.
The PCs undertook an intensive campaign to unseat prominent Liberal cabinet minister Greg Sorbara in Vaughan, part of the 905 area that party leaders have repeatedly visited in recent weeks, aware of its potential role in sending any party to Queen's Park. But it appeared Mr. Sorbara would return to Queen's Park.
"We're disappointed," said Jeff Marshall, campaign manager for Tony Genco, Mr. Sorbara's PC challenger. "We've seen a lot of growth since the last campaign."
And in Mississauga South, PC strategists were counting on voter outrage over the proposed construction of a gas-fired power plant to tip votes in favour of young Tory candidate Geoff Janoscik. But Liberal incumbent Charles Sousa skirted that controversy and was declared elected with a 17-per-cent margin.
In Bramalea-Gore-Malton, a three-way race opened up with Liberal incumbent Kuldip Kular battling novice candidate Sanjeev Maingi for the PCs and Jagmeet Singh for the NDP. The Conservatives squeaked past Mr. Singh by just 540 votes in the federal election. Mr. Singh was leading at press time.
Mr. Hudak's failure to pick up any additional 905 ridings indicates that his attacks on foreign workers and foreign students backfired throughout the suburbs. Roughly half of the ridings in the 905 area are more than 30-per-cent immigrant, including a half-dozen ridings in Ajax, Brampton and Mississauga.
The suburbs are also dominated by young families. Families with children at home make up more than 75 per cent of households in eight ridings in the 905 area code, by far the largest concentration in the country. Those families were the target of PC promises of tax relief on home hydro bills and caregiver tax credits.
In the City of Toronto, big Liberal names Kathleen Wynne and Mike Colle held off stiff challenges from Andrea Mandel-Campbell and Rocco Rossi, respectively.
With a report from Carys Mills