By Allison Martell

TORONTO (Reuters) - The Progressive Conservative Party, led by populist Doug Ford, is on track to sweep to victory in Ontario, Canada's most populous province, ending 15 years of Liberal rule, Canadian networks projected on Thursday.

Ford's party will win the majority of seats in the provincial legislature, giving Ford broad powers to pass legislation, the networks forecast.

"I'm very grateful to the people of Ontario," said Ford as he spoke briefly to media outside his home in Toronto.


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.

"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.

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.

The contest in Canada's industrial and manufacturing heartland became a fight between Ford and the left-leaning New Democratic Party after Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne, premier since 2013, dropped to a distant third in opinion polls.

Wynne is the first female premier and first openly gay premier the province has had.

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 ($272 billion) in March.

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 New Democratic Party 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 Peter Cooney and Darren Schuettler)

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