Tory's school pledge distracting voters: Runciman



    TORONTO, Sept. 14 /CNW/ - Below, you will find the text of a Canadian
Press article that shows a senior Conservative MPP questioning John Tory's
judgment:

    Progressive Conservative plan to fund faith-based schools is letting
Premier Dalton McGuinty off the hook by distracting voters from the egregious
promise-breaking record of the governing Liberals, a veteran member of the
Conservative caucus said today.
    "It's not playing well," Bob Runciman, a cabinet minister under former
premiers Mike Harris and Ernie Eves, said of Conservative Leader John Tory's
vow to bring private religious schools under the public funding umbrella.
    "Certainly, I'm not hearing from people if there is an appetite for it.
I'm not hearing from people (who are) supportive, by and large."
    Runciman's words came as party insiders, rattled by another former
Conservative cabinet minister's observation that Tory could "go down" on the
issue, vowed an aggressive counter-attack - to be led by sitting members of
the legislature like Runciman.
    Dianne Cunningham, colleges and universities minister under Harris, told
the Toronto Star that Tory had "got himself into something" over funding
faith-based schools and "may well go down on this."
    "What is crucial to turning this issue is that we all stick to the party
position - incidents like Dianne Cunningham's comments just fuel the issue,"
reads an email circulated Thursday among Conservative party strategists.
    "Stand firm and when we turn this into a leadership issue we will win
big."
    That appeared to be Tory's tact as he main-streeted in the Hamilton-area
riding of Dundas on Thursday.
    "I'm sticking with the policy because I think it's right," Tory said.
"I'm accountable for it and I'm prepared to accept that accountability. It
goes with leadership."
    Runciman, who's held the eastern Ontario riding of Leeds-Grenville since
1981, said voters are so preoccupied with the schools issue that they don't
appear overly concerned about McGuinty's track record of broken promises.

    ...

    On Thursday, Runciman's leader found himself being taken to task by
voters in Dundas, a scene that's become increasingly familiar on the campaign
trail.
    Malcolm McMaster, a business owner, told Tory he was a lifelong
Conservative but "you lost my vote" on the funding for religious schools.
    After hearing Tory's explanation of his policy, McMaster told reporters
he will likely vote Conservative again.
    "The fact is that I have to hold my nose to do it," said McMaster, who
added it takes "something away from the political process.
    Mari Adams wasn't as a charitable.
    The Oakville resident, enjoying tea in a Dundas cafe, told Tory she would
have voted Conservative if it weren't for two things - his nuclear policy and
his proposal to fund religious schools.
    "I'm not against religion in any way, shape or form...but I just don't
think it has any place in being publicly funded," she said afterwards.
    In a telephone interview, Runciman said voters are somewhat reassured
when he gets a chance to explain the schools would have to follow the Ontario
curriculum and employ accredited teachers to receive funding.
    He also pointed out that faith-based schools are funded in five other
provinces and the Northwest Territories, without problems.
    "That seems to have some impact... But it's a challenge for us to get
that message out, there's no doubt about it."
    Liberal Health Promotion Minister Jim Watson said the faith-based schools
controversy is dominating the campaign in his Ottawa riding.
    Watson said that at least four or five times a day, constituents tell him
they've always voted Conservative in the past but will vote Liberal this time
because of Tory's pledge.
    "It's going over like a lead balloon," he said. "I've been out canvassing
for five weeks and it's unbelievable how unpopular it is."
    Watson said the idea is particularly disliked in rural areas, where
voters haven't forgotten the closures of small schools under Harris.
    "You give more incentives to drive people away from those smaller
schools, it will put them at greater risk," said Watson, whose riding includes
a large rural area.




For further information:

For further information: Ben Chin, (416) 961-3800 ext. 412,
ben_chin@ontarioliberal.ca

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