The Ontario Liberals are sailing to victory with a 15-point lead over the Progressive Conservatives, according to a new poll, despite PC Leader John Tory backtracking on his pledge to fund faith-based schools.

The Strategic Counsel poll was conducted between Oct. 6 and 7 for CTV News and The Globe and Mail.

It shows the PC Party bleeding support ahead of Wednesday's vote: (percentage-point change from a Sept. 13-16 poll in brackets):

  • Liberals: 42 per cent (+2)
  • Progressive Conservatives: 27 per cent (-7)
  • NDP: 19 per cent (+3)
  • Green Party: 11 per cent (-1)

But outside the Greater Toronto Area, both the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives have lost votes to the New Democrats and Greens since the previous election (percentage-point change from the 2003 results in brackets):

  • Liberals: 35 per cent (-11)
  • Progressive Conservatives (28 per cent (-8)
  • NDP: 24 per cent (+8)
  • Green Party: 13 per cent (+10)

Protecting the province's public education system has become a central issue of the campaign. In Ontario, only private Catholic schools have a constitutional right to public funding.

Tory said other faith-based schools should get funding as well, while Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty and New Democratic Leader Howard Hampton argued such a move would undermine public education.

Tory later clarified his position, saying he would hold a free vote on the issue.

When respondents were asked if their opinion of Tory had changed as a result of that clarification, half of them said there was no difference:

  • Improved: 18 per cent
  • Stayed the same: 50 per cent
  • Worsened: 26 per cent

And when respondents were asked if the free-vote promise had made them more likely or less likely to vote for the PC party, there was also little change:

  • More likely: 17 per cent
  • No impact: 60 per cent
  • Less likely: 19 per cent

Both McGuinty and Hampton have promised more money to the public education system, while limiting faith-based funding to Catholic schools -- essentially keeping the status quo.

The issue has remained dominant despite PC attack ads targeting McGuinty's broken campaign promises, such as his 2003 pledge to shut down Ontario's polluting coal plants by 2007.

When respondents were asked which of the two issues they were most concerned with, 39 per cent said McGuinty's broken campaign promises, while 49 per cent said Tory's pledge to fund private religious schools.

Technical notes

  • Interviews were conducted between Oct. 6 and Oct. 7, 2007.
  • Results are based on tracking among a proportionate sample of Ontarians 18 years of age or older.
  • A total of 850 Ontarians were surveyed.
  • The Ontario margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
  • The Ontario sample size excluding Toronto CMA is 492, with a 4.4 percentage point margin of error.