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John Tory, the new leader of Ontario's Progressive Conservatives, has reached out to his opponents in this month's leadership contest to play key roles as critics of the Liberal government.

Jim Flaherty and Frank Klees will be the critics for the finance and education ministries, respectively. John Baird, a strong Flaherty supporter, will take on the key role of health critic.

But Mr. Tory has given the most important job in the caucus to one of his strongest supporters, 23-year MPP Bob Runciman. Mr. Runciman will be interim leader in the legislature, speaking for the Conservative Party and declaring policy on the spot, because Mr. Tory does not have a seat.

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Aides to Mr. Tory concede the appointment of the Leeds-Grenville MPP is risky, although it shows respect for Mr. Runciman's loyalty, his experience and his support.

Glorying in the nickname Mad Dog, Mr. Runciman is known for seldom withholding his opinions, no matter how controversial.

In August of 2003, when violence within Toronto's black community was receiving considerable media attention, Mr. Runciman, the public security minister, suggested that some members of that community had "a vested interest" in seeing that tension with the police continued because it was a source of their livelihood.

Six months earlier, he had complained about the Ontario Human Rights Commission's activist stand on racial profiling. "No one has proven that it exists, and certainly police officers have indicated it does not exist," he said.

In May of 2002, Mr. Runciman stunned even his cabinet colleagues with an off-the-cuff revelation that the Ontario Provincial Police had tracked a "sleeper cell" connected to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, and that it had left the province.

A calmer voice in Conservative ranks will come from former health minister Elizabeth Witmer, who will be deputy leader, caucus chair and responsible for long-term policy development.

In naming Mr. Flaherty finance critic, Mr. Tory chose a former finance minister and loyalist of former premier Mike Harris who has spent his nine years in the legislature insisting that tax cuts be an essential part of the party's policy.

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As education critic, Mr. Klees brings a strong adherence to the tax credits for private schools that Mr. Flaherty introduced and that the Liberal government quickly cancelled when it took office last year.

The new Conservative roster will face off directly against the government when the legislature begins sitting Oct. 12. Its return has been delayed to give the Conservatives time to reorganize under their new leader.

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