Liberal Toronto elects conservative mayor

TORONTO (Reuters) - Toronto voters on Monday elected conservative Rob Ford as mayor of Canada’s biggest city, tilting away from their recent liberal leanings and opting for his platform of small government, fewer taxes and big spending cuts.

Toronto mayoral candidate Rob Ford is pictured in this undated publicity handout photo. Traditionally liberal Toronto looks set to go against its roots in a colorful race for city mayor, with vengeful voters drawn to a penny-pinching and often politically incorrect right-winger. REUTERS/Handout

Ford, a suburban city councilor and businessman, defeated George Smitherman, a former Liberal Party deputy premier of Toronto’s province of Ontario. Ford was victorious on a platform that promised to “stop the gravy train at City Hall.”

Ford drew 47 percent of the vote, compared to Smitherman’s 35 percent, with no other candidate getting more than 12 percent, according to official vote tallies.

“People just kept telling me ... you’re the only one that I trust that can get this City Hall spending under control,” Ford, who was supported by provincial and federal Conservative Party figures, said on local television following his victory.

Toronto, with a population of 2.6 million, is Canada’s financial capital. In federal elections, the city tends to vote Liberal or for the left-leaning New Democrats, while many of its suburbs vote Conservative.

Ford capitalized on voter resentment over high taxes and an ugly municipal workers’ strike, while generating support for his own penny-pinching and accessibility. He vowed to abolish Toronto’s vehicle-registration tax and land-transfer tax.

Ford has said he will eliminate a C$503 million ($493 million) 2011 city deficit to create a C$1.7 billion surplus within four years, and still expand public transit.

Smitherman, Ontario’s first openly gay minister, was the early frontrunner in the mayoral race, but was dogged by criticism over his role in a C$1 billion spending scandal over electronic health records.

Ford had his own controversies, including his noted temper at city council, a past drunken driving conviction in the United States, and remarks early in the campaign that Toronto, one of the world’s most diverse cities, cannot handle more immigrants.

He also had been charged with marijuana possession and domestic assault but the cases were dismissed or dropped.

(Editing by Will Dunham)

$1=$1.02 Canadian