Nova Scotia's premier-elect Darrell Dexter says he refused to take victory for granted in Tuesday's provincial election until the votes were finally counted and a historic NDP majority was confirmed.

Dexter led his party to a win that will result in the first New Democratic majority government east of Ontario.

The NDP won 31 of 52 seats in the provincial legislature, easily clearing the 27 seats required for a majority.

"We certainly knew there was the opportunity for great progress there, but you never take anything for granted, you just keep pushing through to the end," Dexter, 51, told CTV's Canada AM on Wednesday.

The former lawyer and journalist said it wasn't an overnight victory, but rather the result of a decade of hard work by party members.

"This has been a long process of almost 10 years of building the party, building our base, strengthening constituency associations, building a firm policy foundation," Dexter said.

"This was more of a methodical process than simply finding an issue that could take us into government."

Dexter said the cost of living in Nova Scotia, retention of young people, and a desire for change were issues that came into play in recent weeks on the campaign trail.

"And of course all of those things are really tied to the economy in one way or another. People were looking, I think, for change," Dexter said.

"They were looking for someone who understood the struggle that most working Nova Scotians had, which is trying to make ends meet, trying to get through what are tough economic times."

Dexter said he spoke with both Conservative Leader Rodney MacDonald and Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil after the election, and said both were gracious in defeat and said they wanted the government to succeed "because they wanted what was best for the people of the province."

McNeil won in his home riding of Annapolis and MacDonald won his riding of Inverness.

MacDonald -- whose party slipped to third place with 10 seats -- was gracious in defeat, saying in his concession speech "the people have spoken."

The outgoing Conservative premier said he called and congratulated Dexter, and told him he would "do everything to ensure a smooth transition."

"Nova Scotians have decided to go in another direction," MacDonald said, "they have said it is time for change. While it's not an easy decision to accept, it is a decision I respect"

McNeil of the Liberals, who won 11 seats and official opposition status, said he was "humbled" by the support his party received, and vowed to be a "strong voice in the legislature."