What was on track to become the NDP's strongest provincial election result in decades has ended in a bitter-sweet finale for New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath, with the party finishing third while gaining seats in the provincial legislature.

The Ontario NDP have increased their seat total in the Ontario legislature to 17, up seven seats from the 10 won in the last provincial election, though the party ended in up behind the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals.

Welcomed on stage at the Hamilton Convention Centre by cheers of "Andrea! Andrea!" Horwath thanked her supporters for choosing change and pledged that "we are just getting started" in terms of building a solid NDP foundation in Ontario.

"You voted to send more New Democrats to fight for you at Queen's Park. And you know what? Instead of voting out of fear, you voted for hope. And instead of voting or the same old solution, you voted for change," Horwath told the crowd.

'Work together'

"Tonight, people of Ontario gave 107 people from different parties a very important job, and they sent some very important instructions … and they go like this: 'We expect you to confront the challenges that we are facing. We expect you to work together,'" she said. "And I am ready to do that."

Horwath, dubbed the "Steeltown scrapper," took back her riding of Hamilton Centre by a comfortable margin. CBC News projected Horwath would trounce her rivals.

During the campaign, the party platform promised to make a move on corporate taxes and focus on job creation and green initiatives.

The NDP campaign rode upon Horwath's warm and personable image, with the leader pledging to "put people first" and improve quality of life for ordinary Ontarians by focusing on pocketbook relief for families and by investing in transit and education.

Asked Thursday night how she felt about the election results, she said "the biggest win is for the people" who benefitted from new NDP representatives at Queen's Park.

Rookie leader

She characterized herself as being in touch with ordinary Ontarians, while cheeky campaign posters featuring an orange high-heeled shoe implored voters to "Pump up the vote."

Although considered to be the least recognizable of the three main party leaders, Horwath's popularity gained momentum as the campaign progressed, especially following the death of federal party leader and NDP icon Jack Layton. She also performed notably well for a rookie leader during the September debate. 

Recent polls suggested the NDP would finish third behind the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives, who were in a virtual dead heat.

Horwath was elected leader of the NDP in March 2009, succeeding Howard Hampton. She beat out MPPs Peter Tabuns, Gilles Bisson and Michael Prue to claim the post.