09/15/2011 12:08 EDT | Updated 11/15/2011 05:12 EST

Ontario Election: Tim Hudak Shrugs Off Accusations He Used Ringers At Event Touting Plan For Online Sex Offender Registry

RICHMOND HILL, Ont. - Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is shrugging off accusations that his campaign used a parents group for political gain while touting the Tory plan for an online public sex offender registry.

Speaking at a stop in Richmond Hill on Thursday, Hudak sidestepped questions about the allegations, saying when a child predator moves into a neighbourhood, "the whole community is up in arms and the whole community protests."

The Windsor Star reported Thursday that the community members beside Hudak while he was outlining details of his justice platform in Leamington on Wednesday weren't part of a parents group that protested the placement of a sexual predator near a town school.

Cynthia Raheb — part of group protesting sex offender Sarah Dahle living at a halfway house that shares a fence with an elementary school — told the newspaper a campaign spokesman had asked if members would appear with Hudak during the event but the group declined.

After seeing people she didn't recognize beside Hudak at the announcement, Raheb said she was shocked and the incident changed her view of the PCs.

"To have somebody do that behind our backs really presents the issue of how honest and how far they will go to implement what they're saying," she told the newspaper. "I mean how much can you trust them at this point now?"

Another protester told the paper the group feels used.

The Liberals were quick to pounce on the story, issuing a news release that called Hudak's stop in Leamington a "staged event" which set a "startling new record for deceit."

Campaigning in Sault Ste. Marie, Premier Dalton McGuinty said the Star story suggests Hudak's plan doesn't have the public's support.

"I think maybe it speaks to the lack of support for their plan, if they're having difficulty rousting up a few Ontarians who might stand behind them in support of it," he said.

Hudak said the people with him at Wednesday's announcement were leaders in the community.

"The parents I (was) with are leaders on their school councils, grandparents that had kids at that school where the sex offender was living next door," he said. "This is the issue here. I believe that the right of public safety for our kids and our grandkids should come ahead of the privacy of sexual predators."

Hudak then went on to decry McGuinty's stance on sex offenders, as he has done in the past.

"Why is Dalton McGuinty allowing the right of privacy of sexual predators to trump safety for our kids? That's the important question," Hudak said.

"Any of us that have kids, any of us that have grandkids, it gets you in the gut when you hear about a sexual predator that may be living in the neighbourhood."

The Liberals have argued that police don't support the Tory online registry proposal, citing comments by OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis.

Lewis has said keeping the registry offline helped with compliance from the offenders, and has also noted cases south of the border where people hunted down and killed sex offenders they saw on a registry.

Hudak has said he won't tolerate violence against anyone, including criminals, but has also repeatedly bashed McGuinty for being too soft on prisoners and protecting the rights of sex offenders over those of the community.

The Tory leader spent the rest of his morning media availability touting his tax relief plan while pummelling McGuinty's record on government spending.

"We're going to cut the waste and the fraud and the secret deals," Hudak said after helping four-year-old Fabian Lai lace up a pair of new skates at a Canadian Tire store.

"Our plan is to help middle class families feel more secure, to spend in the economy ... that helps create jobs. The more people working, the more revenue that comes into the treasury to help balance our books."

Hudak visited a candy store in Unionville on Thursday afternoon before attending an evening rally in Markham which drew a small group of protesters decrying the Tory leader's use of the "foreign workers" label early in the campaign.

The protesters said they had no affiliation with another political party but carried anti-Hudak signs and wore T-shirts they were handed by an organizer who wasn't present. Many stayed away from the media and hid their faces from view, but a few said they were angry Hudak thought of new Canadians as foreigners.

The Tories have taken issue with a Liberal proposal which would give a $10,000 tax credit to businesses that hire certain new Canadians.

Hudak generated controversy when he initially labelled those who'd benefit from the credit as "foreign workers," although he stopped using the term once the Liberals made it clear the credit would only be for new Canadian citizens who had been in the country less than five years.