09/14/2011 10:21 EDT | Updated 01/12/2012 02:19 EST

McGuinty says he's no criminal coddler as Conservatives sharpen attacks

OTTAWA - Premier Dalton McGuinty says he's no criminal coddler as his main rival accuses him of being soft on crime.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak went on the offensive Wednesday with his promise to put Ontario's sex offenders registry online if he forms the next government after the Oct. 6 vote.

"I would put public safety for our kids ahead of the right to privacy of child predators," he said in Leamington, where Tories say a convicted sex offender was found living near an elementary school.

"I just want to know why Dalton McGuinty doesn't believe the same thing."

McGuinty quickly fired back, saying police leaders are firmly opposed to making the registry public.

"I think it's really important that we take our cue from our police," he said.

"They tell us that this particular approach is not the kind of thing that is going to lead to more public safety, so I'm with them."

To back up his claim, the Liberals distributed comments made by OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis in August where he said he "totally disagreed" with Hudak about making the registry public.

"We have almost 100 per cent compliance rate in this province with our sexual offender registry because they're not online," Lewis said. "So they obey the rules. That helps us. That's a tool for us."

Lewis also noted there have been cases in the U.S. where people have hunted down and killed sex offenders that they saw on a registry.

Hudak said he won't tolerate violence against anyone, including criminals.

"I trust parents like these to use that information responsibly, to protect their own kids if they know there's a child predator in their neighbourhood," he said.

"Sadly, Dalton McGuinty doesn't trust parents to act responsibly."

Hudak has been talking up his tough-on-crime promises in what appears to be an effort to reverse polls that suggest he's lost a sizable lead over the Liberals.

"Dalton McGuinty and (NDP Leader) Andrea Horwath will continue to coddle criminals, we'll put them to work -- up to 40 hours a week, picking up garbage, cleaning graffiti, to give back to society that they've taken from," he told supporters in Kingsville, Ont., Tuesday night.

Hudak has also frequently complained that under the Liberals, inmates in provincial prisons get perks like yoga classes, cable television and poker cards.

"Do you want four more years of the guy who actually used $2,000 of your tax dollars to buy brand-new playing cards for prisoners so they could play poker all day long?" he said at the Kingville rally.

"Do you want four more years of the guy who actually used your tax money to pay for high-definition cable TV packages that many families can't afford for their own kids?"

Cable TV for prisoners -- which was brought in under the Conservatives -- was cancelled in April and the yoga classes are not funded by taxpayers, Liberal officials said.

CrimeStoppers provides playing cards in some provincial and federal institutions with their contact information to promote awareness around crime prevention, they added.

A Liberal government will always be looking at prisoner programs to make sure they're reasonable, McGuinty said. But Hudak is headed down the wrong track by creating prison work crews.

"First of all, that's expensive for taxpayers," he said. "Secondly it puts our communities at risk."

He also took a shot at the Tories, noting that crime rates continue to decline in Ontario.

"We've hired and put 2,300 more police officers on our streets," McGuinty said. "I do not see any commitment on the part of the PCs to put more police on our streets."

Horwath, however, is steering clear of the debate.

"They've invited me into the sandbox but I'm not playing," she said in St. Thomas.