* Most polls show Liberals, Conservatives extremely close
* Ruling Liberals would have first shot at governing (Adds results of Ipsos Reid poll)
By Claire Sibonney
TORONTO, Oct 4 Most of the late opinion polls before Ontario's election on Thursday point to a minority government in Canada's economic capital, and either of the two big parties could end up in power.
A party needs at least 54 seats to win a majority in the provincial Legislature, and two of three polls published on Tuesday offered slim chance of that.
A survey of 23,000 people from Forum Research predicted 45 seats apiece for the ruling Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives, their main rivals. A smaller poll by Nanos Research gave a slight edge to the Liberals, who have been in power since 2003.
A third poll of 1,020 adults conducted by Ipsos Reid suggested the Liberals were headed back into government with an assured minority and potential for a third consecutive majority.
By convention, the Liberals can try to form a government, even if they win fewer seats than the Conservatives. But they would need tacit support from at least one opposition party.
If they get far fewer seats than the Conservatives, they might not even try to stay in power.
"The government of the day has a shot at getting the confidence of the house ... except if the results are obvious," said Nelson Wiseman, a politics professor at the University of Toronto.
A minority government would be Ontario's first since the mid-1980s and could allow the left-leaning New Democrats, who currently sit in third place, to play kingmaker.
Conservative leader Tim Hudak and Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty have dismissed the idea of a pact or coalition with the NDP, which wants to hike corporate taxes, regulate gas prices and freeze tuition fees.
The Liberals steered the export-reliant province through a recession that hammered manufacturers, while helping to bail out the auto sector, spending heavily on healthcare and education, and raising taxes.
The Conservatives promise to lower some taxes and scrap the Liberals' C$7 billion ($6.6 billion) green energy deal with South Korea's Samsung 000830.KS. They would also stop paying big premiums for clean energy, which has inflated electricity bills.
Both the big parties intend to eliminate the province's C$16 billion deficit by 2017-18, although analysts question their ability to do so without raising taxes. ($1=$1.06 Canadian) (Additional reporting by Jeffrey Hodgson; Editing by Peter Cooney)