Health care, public education top issues: poll
TORONTO - Health care and public education ranked as the most important issues in Ontario's election campaign, but voters weren't about to ignore Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty's broken promises or John Tory's unpopular plan to fund faith-based private schools, a new poll conducted last week suggests.
The latest Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey released Thursday found 62 per cent of respondents ranked health care as their top priority, while 46 per cent said they consider education their most pressing concern.
Some 34 per cent of respondents said McGuinty's record would be a "critical factor'' affecting their vote, while 27 per cent felt that way about the Progressive Conservative leader's plan to bring religious schools under the public-funding umbrella.
Of those respondents who rated health and education as their top priorities, nearly half said they were planning to vote Liberal, compared with less than a third for the Conservatives. But that doesn't mean the Oct. 10 outcome is set in stone, said Harris-Decima president Bruce Anderson.
The survey of 706 respondents is considered accurate plus or minus 3.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
"For this trajectory to change, the Conservatives must either become much more competitive on health care and education, or sharply drive up the number of voters who see the economy and trust as central issues,'' Anderson said.
"Either way, they must move the faith-based education issue off centre stage. Since most voters do not feel it should be among the most critical issues in this campaign, it would be premature to conclude this election result is a foregone conclusion.''
Tory and New Democrat Leader Howard Hampton were both taking aim Thursday at McGuinty's unpopular health care premium, while the premier repeated his warning to voters that Tory is a Mike Harris in waiting who would fire nurses and water inspectors.
Tory announced that lower-income workers would be the first to benefit from a Conservative plan to phase out the tax, which costs taxpayers earning more than $20,000 a year up to $900 a year.
McGuinty introduced the tax in the 2004 budget after promising in 2003 not to raise taxes.
Hampton also slammed the tax as "unfair'' during a meeting with hospital workers in Windsor, Ont., but said both McGuinty and Tory pose a threat to public health care because they support private-sector involvement in hospital construction projects.
McGuinty began his day in Ottawa, where he urged Tory to explain which government services would be cut first under a Conservative plan to find $1.5 billion in "efficiencies.'' The last Conservative government fired meat and water inspectors after it vowed to cut wasteful spending, he noted.
"What exactly is he going to cut? How many nurses?'' asked McGuinty.
"You want to play in the big leagues? Tell us exactly where you are going to cut $1.5 billion out of our public services.''
The Conservatives are looking for savings of only two per cent in total government spending, Tory fired back, noting that McGuinty managed to find one per cent "without even trying'' before he decided to raise taxes instead.
"Mr. McGuinty told the people of Ontario, when it was convenient to him (and) with great pride, how he found $800 million in savings,'' Tory said.
"And now, when it's not convenient anymore for someone to actually hunker down and do the hard work of finding savings and efficiencies in a government that I think is rife with waste . . . it's a threat to society as we know it.''
Tory was planning to use a pivotal speech later Thursday to business leaders to talk about his plans for Ontario's economy -- a front where he believes McGuinty and the Liberals are weak and vulnerable.
"When it comes to ensuring Ontario has the prosperity it needs, there is a big gap between the Ontario we have and the Ontario we deserve,'' read the text of Tory's remarks.
"If we are going to close this gap, we need new leadership.''
Hampton, meanwhile, touted his plan to offer a health tax rebate of up to $450 per person and $900 per two-income family, and said the NDP would make up the difference by hiking taxes on banks, insurance companies and the most well-off.