Ontario Progressive Conservatives are ready to "defend the interests of Ontario families every day" despite suffering a disappointing loss in the Ontario election in which the Liberals were re-elected to a third straight term in government, Leader Tim Hudak said Thursday night.

With 99.3 per cent of polls reporting, the Liberals were on the cusp of a majority, capturing 37.5 per cent of the popular vote with the PCs sitting 35.3 per cent. NDP support was at 22.9 per cent, with the Greens at 3.0 per cent support, down five percentage points from their showing in the 2007 election.

With the outcomes of some races still unclear, the Liberals had 53 seats, one shy of the number of seats required for majority in the 107-seat legislature. The Liberals lost 18 seats, while the Tories picked up 12 seats and stand at 37 seats.

"Friends, it has been a long campaign, a hard-fought campaign. And although the result is not the one we hoped for, we do accept it," a smiling Hudak told a cheering crowd in his riding of Niagara West-Glanbrook, where he was comfortably elected.

"So tonight the voters told us that we have more work to do. And we will start first thing tomorrow morning, and when the legislature returns I am ready and our stronger team is ready to roll up our sleeves, to get down to work and to defend the interests of Ontario families each and every day."

At the start of the summer, polls suggested Hudak and the Tories had a healthy double-digit lead over the Liberals. That lead shrank steadily as the campaign ramped up, with both the NDP and the Liberals gaining popularity.

A number of factors conspired to "make [Hudak's] life harder," Progressive Conservative campaign secretary Chad Rogers said. "Those factors include fear of political change in an uncertain economic climate" and the "difficult work" done by conservative-minded Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who tried to pass a slate of deeply unpopular cuts at the municipal level.

"But I think Tim Hudak has united his party, had a clear plan and he certainly worked the hardest," Rogers said. "For a first-time leader to win a debate and be out there, doing eight events today, we can be proud of him."

To achieve a majority, a party must win 54 of the province's 107 ridings. At the end of the last legislative session, the Liberals held 70 seats, the Progressive Conservatives 25 and the NDP 10. There were two vacancies.

The Tories ran a campaign focused on pocketbook relief, tax reduction and attacks on what they viewed as government mismanagement. They received endorsements from a number of prominent federal Tories, including Jim Flaherty and Jason Kenney.  

Hudak was elected leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives in 2009, beating out MPPs Christine Elliott, Frank Klees and Randy Hillier. His leadership bid had the backing of several Tory heavyweights, including former premier Mike Harris and federal cabinet ministers John Baird and Tony Clement.

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