Poll suggests Eves, Flaherty tied among Tories
Survey commissioned by Flaherty camp canvassed party members
From Canadian Press
Ian Urquhart columns
Debate ends in draw (Jan. 18)
Stockwell campaign
Witmer campaign
Eves campaign
Clement campaign
Flaherty campaign
Ontario PC party
The race to succeed Mike Harris as Ontario premier has developed into a toss-up between Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and his predecessor, Ernie Eves, a new poll indicates.

The poll, made available to The Canadian Press, was commissioned by Flaherty's campaign. It is the first to be released publicly that canvassed only card-carrying Conservatives who planned to vote in the leadership contest March 23.

"We're certainly surprised by the result," Flaherty aide Dan Robertson said Sunday.

"It was no secret when this started that we were well behind."

However, a spokesman for the Eves campaign said Sunday the poll was based on faulty methodology and called it "illegitimate."

The poll was conducted by Winnipeg-based Western Opinion Research on Friday and Saturday.

Twenty-nine per cent of respondents said they would vote for Flaherty, while 27 per cent backed Eves. Environment Minister Elizabeth Witmer trailed in third place with 10 per cent, while Health Minister Tony Clement was at 8 per cent and Chris Stockwell at 5 per cent. Sixteen per cent were undecided.

Western Opinion, which polled 514 party members, said its results were accurate within plus or minus 4.3 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

That means the two-point edge for Flaherty is statistically insignificant the finance minister's support could be as high as 33 or as low as 25, while the backing for Eves could range between a high of 31 or a low of 23.

"It's hands-on proof that this is a competitive two-way race between Ernie Eves and Jim Flaherty," said Robertson.

The internal poll is at odds with an Ekos survey done last week for the Toronto Star and published Sunday, which suggested that Eves is by far the front runner in the race, with Witmer second and Flaherty a distant fourth behind Stockwell. However, that survey polled a cross-section of Ontario voters not just Tory members.

The Ekos survey gave Eves 25 per cent support, with Flaherty barely registering at seven per cent.

"We'd like to point out that it is the members of the party that will select the next leader," said Robertson.

"The (Ekos) poll doesn't take into account the people who are pretty important, namely the people who will actually vote."

However, the Western poll also suggests Flaherty's aggressive campaign, in which he has promised to ban teacher strikes, outlaw homelessness and curb welfare eligibility, appears to have alienated many Tories as well.

When asked who they would never vote for, Flaherty and Witmer who has declared that Harris's Common Sense Revolution dead were tied at 19 per cent.

In contrast, only 12 per cent said they would never vote for Eves.

Flaherty's strategists said it's to be expected that their candidate's strong views on issues would alienate some party members.

They also say the results are similar to another poll they commissioned early last week.

To conduct the survey, the Flaherty campaign turned over a random selection of about 4,000 names from a recent list of about 21,000 Tory members provided by the party.

Eves spokesman Brett Kelly said the fact that Flaherty's campaign - not the polling firm - selected the pool from which the 500 polled party members were chosen makes the survey illegitimate.

The Western survey also suggested that just over half of party members supported the idea of two-tier health care in which the wealthier should be able to pay for quicker access to medical services.

Similarly, just over half favoured Flaherty's tax credit for private schools and almost three-quarters agreed with his proposal to ban teacher strikes.

Respondents were not asked for their views on criminalizing the homeless.

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