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Premier Ernie Eves scored a successful return to Ontario's electoral politics yesterday with a double victory, capturing a seat in the legislature for himself and holding -- by the narrowest of margins -- another seat for his Conservative Party.

Mr. Eves won the very safe Tory seat of Dufferin-Peel-Wellington-Grey, northwest of Toronto, where he had chosen to run because it offered him the best chance of avoiding a defeat.

By a four-vote margin, the Tories also retained the riding of Nipissing in the near North, where a defeat would have been embarrassing because it had been held for the past 21 years by former premier Mike Harris.

The win in Nipissing stands for now, but there is certain to be a recount.

The results left the Conservatives with 57 seats in the 103-member legislature. The Liberals have 36; the New Democratic Party holds nine, and there is one independent.

Despite the fact that the Tory vote in Dufferin-Peel fell by 19 percentage points and the Tory was almost defeated in Nippising, Mr. Eves was positive about the night's results. "I think we did very well," he said in Orangeville, noting that he himself won his first victory in 1981 by only six votes.

Mr. Eves's decision this week to rethink the previous government's plans to sell Hydro One, which runs the province's $5-billion electricity transmission grid, apparently gave the party a last-minute boost.

Voters also went to the polls yesterday with the news that Mr. Eves had played a key role in settling a 7½-week strike by more than 30,000 government employees who are members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

Mr. Eves chose to run in the Dufferin-Peel seat although the seat Mr. Harris vacated was Nipissing. There was a fear that the Nipissing voters would turn on the Tories. In Dufferin-Peel, Mr. Eves won with 15,200 votes, compared with 11,756 for his Liberal opponent, Josh Matlow.

Mr. Eves's margin of victory fell far short of that achieved in the 1999 general election by David Tilson, the Tory MPP who gave up his seat so that Mr. Eves would have a safe landing in his political parachute.

Mr. Tilson won with a margin of 16,931 votes and obtained 65 per cent of the votes cast. Mr. Eves was less popular, gaining only 46 per cent of the votes counted.

In Nipissing, the successful Tory candidate is the deputy mayor of North Bay, Al McDonald.