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Labelling it "the granddaddy of all broken promises," Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory today slammed Dalton McGuinty's decision to impose a $2.6-billion tax increase after signing a pledge in the 2003 campaign not to raise taxes.

Speaking on the fourth anniversary of the Ontario Liberal Leader's pledge, and the second day of the Ontario election campaign, Mr. Tory made Liberal broken promises the centrepiece of his strategy, arguing that voters cannot trust that Mr. McGuinty will keep his commitments this time.

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"Mr. McGuinty not only broke his promise not to raise taxes. He shattered it beyond all recognition," the Conservative Leader said.

"He waited less than a year before ramming his new tax through the legislature. ... It was the largest new tax burden ever imposed on Ontarians."

Mr. McGuinty is shying away from such a stand this time, saying on Tuesday that he has no intention of signing his name to another document promising not to raise taxes.

Four years ago today, Mr. McGuinty signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge during the 2003 election campaign. He broke that pledge the following year by introducing the annual $2.6-billion health premium, the single-largest tax increase in the province's history.

Mr. McGuinty is once again promising not to increase taxes as he seeks to win a second term. This time, however, he will not put it in writing, he said in response to questions from reporters.

"I've been in politics for 17 years," he said. "The toughest decision I ever had to make in my life was to ask Ontarians to invest more in their health-care system."

Ontarians can now take comfort that there will be no more hidden deficits, because the provincial Auditor-General has vetted the province's books, he said.

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The campaign for the Oct. 10 provincial election is only in its second day, but it is clear that broken promises are haunting Mr. McGuinty.

NDP Leader Howard Hampton also started his day by accusing Mr. McGuinty of betraying children with autism by breaking promises to extend treatment for children older than six.

Mr. Hampton opened his second day of campaigning at a York Region centre for autistic children, where he read from a 2003 letter from Mr. McGuinty to an autistic child's parent - Nancy Morrison, now an NDP candidate in York-Simcoe - in which he promised to extend the funding.

"After the election, what we saw from Dalton McGuinty was a complete about-face," Mr. Hampton said.

Mr. Hampton said the Liberals not only broke their promise but spent $2.4-million - an amount that the government tried to keep secret - fighting the parents of autistic children in court.

Mr. McGuinty did not fund treatment for children over six for autism treatment until mid-2005 after the courts ruled that the province was violating the children's constitutional rights by denying them treatment. The province then successfully appealed that ruling last year.

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But Mr. Hampton refused to outline or cost out his proposals to help autistic children, saying the details would be revealed in the coming days.

Mr. Tory was also under close scrutiny, though, receiving lukewarm support for his proposal to extend funding to religious schools from a partisan business audience in Oakville, west of Toronto.

He admitted the idea isn't "universally popular," but he vowed to continue defending the policy in the face of Liberal attacks and waning support from party supporters.

The Conservatives' proposal to build more nuclear plants and put scrubbers on Ontario's coal plants isn't "universally popular" either, Mr. Tory said.

But - like the plan to extend funding to private religious schools who opt into the public system - Mr. Tory said he's not backing down.

"I understand that our commitment to expand public education is not universally popular but for me, it's a matter of inclusiveness," he said.

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The audience seemed less convinced. While the partisan crowd of about 150 enthusiastically applauded Tory's vow to lower taxes, some notably kept their hands in their lap when Tory talked about funding religious schools while others clapped politely.

With a report from Canadian Press

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