Ontario Liberal leader takes aim at incoming premier

Ontario Liberal leader fires back after facing harsh criticism from newly chosen Tory leader, who will soon be sworn in as premier

After a weekend of bashing by Ontario's Conservative party, the province's opposition Liberals went on the offensive Sunday, slamming the newly chosen premier and criticizing Tory government spending cuts.

In his final speech before winning the leadership Saturday, Ernie Eves called the Liberals a "merry band of taxers and spenders."

"Liberals just can't keep their hands out of our pockets. It must be a genetic defect," he said.

Referring to their leader Dalton McGuinty, Eves said "this is no time to put someone like Dalton, with a learner's permit, in the driver's seat."

McGuinty told CBC Newsworld's Sunday Scrum he expects to "hear much more along the same lines coming from Ernie Eves."

"One of the things that I've come to understand is that politics at the beginning of the 21st century is a full-body contact sport," he said.

During the leadership race, candidate Jim Flaherty criticized Eves as a "pink" Tory. On Sunday, McGuinty said that's the kind of image the newly chosen leader wants to cultivate.

"There is a very slick effort underway to create the impression that Ernie Eves is somehow more moderate and more of a centrist," the Liberal leader said.

But McGuinty said, "on the fundamental issues Ernie Eves has adopted the same failed policies which hang like an albatross around (Premier) Mike Harris's neck."

He said a Liberal government would invest more in education and health care and re-hire water inspectors. Some blame the tainted water tragedy in Walkerton on budget cuts.

The Tory leadership candidates focused on criticizing the Liberals' spending plans in election-style speeches. McGuinty fired back on Sunday, arguing that spending is currently being cut in order to help corporations.

Eves wants to go ahead with his $2.2 billion tax break for large corporations, according to McGuinty. "He wants us to have corporate taxes that are lower than those in Alabama."

Ontario Conservatives hope to win a third term under the new leadership. But Eves has said he doesn't expect an election for at least one more year.

In the meantime, some opinion polls give the Liberals a lead over the Tories of between 15 and 20 percentage points.