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Hudak says he's willing to work with other parties in face of Liberal minority

Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leader Tim Hudak kisses his wife Deb Hutton before he speaks to supporters at his election night campaign headquarters in Niagara Falls, Ontario, October 6, 2011.


Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak reached out to other party leaders in his concession speech Thursday night, saying he will work with anyone who supports the party's fiscal conservatism and focus on job creation.

While the outcome of the election was uncertain at the time of his speech, Mr. Hudak made it clear he intends to stick around and try to make the legislature work.

"We will be constructive, positive and present an alternative vision of Ontario's future where government lives within its means, spends wisely, puts interest of Ontario families and private sector job creation at the top of the list," he said. "We will work with parties and members of the legislature who support that vision and will oppose those who will not."

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He wasn't the only leader speaking about co-operation. Andrea Horwath said the NDP "will work with all MPPs to make our Ontario government work." Though, she was still coy about the prospect of a coalition or deal with other parties at Queen's Park. In a scrum after her speech, she said she hasn't talked about it with other leaders.

"No decisions have been made in that regard," she said.

The final tally revealed the Liberals lost 19 seats, while the Conservatives picked up 12 and the NDP gained seven.

But the gains made by the Progressive Conservative Party will be bittersweet, as Mr. Hudak failed to ignite his support and deliver a victory against an opponent many considered could be beaten easily.

"We did not get the result we wanted tonight, but I am damned proud of the campaign we ran across the province of Ontario," Mr. Hudak told supporters.

"It is very clear the people of Ontario have sent a strong message that they want a change in direction," he said, referring to the Liberals' minority win.

"It's very clear the people of Ontario have put Dalton McGuinty on a much shorter leash."

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But Mr. McGuinty didn't see his victory in the same light.

"It's time to move forward, together," Mr. McGuinty said in his victory speech at Ottawa's Fairmont Laurier hotel, repeating his campaign slogan. "We succeeded in our goal of electing an experienced Liberal government."

As results rolled in to the PC campaign party on Thursday night, supporters in the half-full room listened quietly to rotating newscasts. The crowd cheered briefly as Mr. Hudak secured his own seat, but the mood was sedate as the Liberals pulled ahead.

"We're proud of the way we've fought this campaign," communications director Jason Lietaer said as early results were announced.

"We knew we'd be up against a tough campaign machine and a tough incumbent. We have a first-term leader who ran a fantastic campaign and we faced a $9-million advertising campaign from the unions."

From the start, Mr. Hudak failed to gain traction on issues or with his approach.

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The first official event of Mr. Hudak's campaign was in a Scarborough home, and as he stood in the backyard he launched his first divisive attack on his rival's plan to introduce a $10,000 credit for employers who hire immigrants to skilled positions.

The Liberal position amounted to only a few lines in the just-released platform, but Mr. Hudak seized on the program's exclusivity. He constantly referred to it as an "affirmative action plan" for "foreign workers."

Day after day, he was asked to explain what he meant by the term, since the program was clearly intended for Canadian citizens. But he ignored the questions until the Liberals released more details on the program and made the line demonstrably incorrect.

Several odd moments along the campaign trail also distracted from Mr. Hudak's broader message of lower taxes and an improved life for middle-class families.

He brought nurses to a press conference in a Hamilton hospital to decry the state of the system, but didn't mention he brought them from Niagara. The parents he sat with in Leamington – and credited for chasing a sex offender out of the community – weren't actually involved in the high-profile fight.

The diversions took time away from his most important mission – introducing himself to voters. While the Tories were well ahead in the polls through the summer, when the campaign began Mr. Hudak found his party tied with the Liberals.

To buttress his position, he tried to paint his Progressive Conservatives as the only viable option to the two-term Liberals. Each morning, he'd hold an event to highlight a specific portion of his platform, but before long, he was repeating himself.

It wasn't always easy – late in the campaign, two women approached a Radio-Canada reporter outside of Mr. Hudak's tour bus and excitedly told the reporter that they would vote for him on Oct. 6. They shuffled away awkwardly when he told them he was not Mr. Hudak.

The Hudak campaign started a day earlier than everyone else's and ended a day later. His campaign buses took to the trail a day before the writ dropped, and while other leaders were content to spend election day in relative privacy, he was putting in one of his busiest days, with five photo opportunities between Toronto and Niagara Falls.

At his first stop, a Toronto bagel shop, one patron noted Mr. Hudak was campaigning as if it were just beginning rather than election day. His bus stopped four more times at sparsely attended restaurants en route to Niagara, as a worn-down Mr. Hudak pressed for last-minute support.

The events themselves lacked a sense of momentum – journalists spent a lot of time in empty parking lots surrounded by Hudak props. At one stop, limousines were brought in to decry "fancy consultants living the limousine lifestyle." At another, he stood between cardboard cutouts of forestry workers.

Mr. Hudak relentlessly worked the local press in between official events, doing interviews from his bus. Evenings were typically dedicated to supporter rallies, which were thinly attended at best. While the Liberals were pulling hundreds to their events, Mr. Hudak had trouble drawing the same numbers even when he was close to home.

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