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By Liz Haggarty

Pamela Taylor is the underdog of the year, but if this fact fazes her, she doesn’t show it.

“It’s all up for grabs,” she says with a laugh.

She’s the Ontario Progressive Conservative candidate running in Toronto Centre, Ryerson’s riding, and she’ll be up against two-time winner and Liberal health minister George Smitherman in the Oct. 10 elections.

“The more I spent time in the riding,” she said, “the more I realized that the perception of his profile is more daunting than its reality.”

Taylor is a former Ryerson professor of business law. She taught here for a stint in the early 1980s and remembers the school as a “city-centre, multi-community post-secondary institution that was unique.”

At Monday night’s Cabbagetown provincial candidate’s debate, which seated equal numbers of campaigners and curious residents, Taylor’s ideas set residents’ heads nodding.

She said today’s Progressive Conservative party is different than it was under former PC premier Mike Harris.

“One of the major changes in our policy is that we value every member of this community,” said Taylor. The Harris government had introduced “tough measures for tough times” that her party would not be regressing to in the case of pan handling or any other policy decisions, she said.

At Monday’s debate, NDP candidate Sandra González focused on a three-pronged approach to the problem of panhandling — addressing health, housing and addiction. Liberal incumbent Smitherman launched into a list of mental health initiatives that he said his party had funded.

Taylor’s approach would see greater funding for mental health programs and affordable housing. “We have a large stock of housing that is not up to habitable standards,” she said. “In some cases, it’s appalling.”

Taylor spoke of public housing near her campaign office on Parliament Street where six adults share one bathroom.

“There are some beautiful places, and then there are some that are shameful,” she said.

Taylor disagreed with the other candidates’ position that issues such as homelessness need to be addressed from the ground level up. “You need a co-ordinated strategy and you need it imposed from above,” she said.

Though her website doesn’t mention education or any student-specific issues, Taylor said she would support “stable, multi-year funding” for universities so that no student would be “prevented access due to financial challenges.”

Residents asked about religious school funding, with Smitherman and González quick to announce their support for the current public school system and denounce the Progressive Conservative plan of funding different faith-based schools.

Taylor disagreed with a resident’s comment that the debated funding promoted discrimination and affirmed that the Progressive Conservatives “never intended to segregate or divide.”

She insisted that funding would be offered to currently existing religious schools so that they could be included in the public school system.

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