Lee Greenberg, James Cowan And Natalie Alcoba, CanWest News Service,
National PostPublished: Friday, September 21, 2007
"I want to include those students" in the public system, Mr. Tory said.
"Have you looked at the number of faiths in the phone book?" Mr. McGuinty
asked Mr. Tory, pointing to one of the many questions the policy has raised.
The issue didn’t go much further, however.
Instead, the NDP and Tory leaders
attacked Mr. McGuinty on broken promises, including commitments to fund autism
treatment and close coal-fired generating plants by 2007. On several
occasions, the two men joined each other’s attack.
"You may want to talk about the Conservative government, but this is about
your government," Mr. Hampton said in one of those exchanges.
"I hear from the same parents as Mr. Hampton," Mr. Tory
said during a discussion of funding for autism treatment. "I don’t know why you
don’t hear from them.
After the debate, Mr. Tory did not shy away from suggestions he and Mr.
Hampton were on the same page. "Mr. McGuinty is the incumbent, and he should be
held accountable for his record."
Mr. Hampton, however, pointed to his positions on nuclear power, faith-based
schools and private health care — all differed from Mr. Tory’s.
Mr. McGuinty, meanwhile, was peppered with questions by reporters about why
he appeared listless in the debate.
At the end of the affair, however, it was uncertain if either had done enough
damage to knock the Liberal Premier off his narrow lead in the polls.
"Mr. McGuinty has to be on the defensive because he’s the incumbent — no big
surprise there," said David Docherty, political science professor at Wilfrid
Laurier University in Waterloo. "I think all three of them did relatively well.
I think Tory probably did a little better than people thought."
"I don’t think being negative for 90 minutes appeals to voters," said Liberal
strategist Gerald Butts. "That’s what the opposition did. Dalton was the only
one on stage with positive ideas."
All three leaders entered the debate with hopes of shaking up stagnant public
opinion. None has seen his popularity rise or fall by more than two percentage
points since May, with an Ipsos-Reid poll on Wednesday showing 40% of voters
back the Liberals, compared with 37% for the Tories, 16% for the NDP and 6% for
the Green Party.
While the debate is considered a key event in the campaign, with the
potential to draw at least two-thirds of voters for all or part of the show, its
impact is uncertain.
© National Post 2007