An incumbent Conservative candidate is questioning his Liberal rival's patriotism for saying Stephen Harper's leadership makes her less proud to be a Canadian.
Ed Holder, the federal science and technology minister running again in the Ontario riding of London West, seized on remarks Liberal Kate Young made at an all-candidates' debate hosted by AM980 this week.
At one point, Holder responded to Young's criticism of the Conservative leader by saying he has "never been more proud to be a Canadian" because of Harper's leadership.
Young then responded: "And I am sorry to say, that is one of the reasons I'm running because I'm not as proud to be a Canadian as I used to be and it's all because of Stephen Harper."
Holder issued a press release Wednesday — titled "Canada Proud" — with a short audio clip of the exchange.
"My pride in Canada doesn't change because of who won an election. My pride in Canada doesn't waiver because I'm unhappy that things are not going my way," he said in the release.
"My pride in Canada doesn't diminish because of my personal feelings towards an elected official I have never met. I am always proud to be Canadian."
Canadians 'hiding the fact that they are Canadian': Liberal
At one point in the debate, Young questioned how Holder can serve a prime minister whose behaviour over the past 10 years has been "questionable to say the least."
Young noted Harper's "attack" on the chief justice of the Supreme Court, "muzzling" of government scientists, past prorogation of Parliaments and "dangerous" use of omnibus legislation — a technique she said is dangerous for democracy.
"I really question how you can continue to stand behind him," she said. "That's not like you, Ed. We all know you."
Holder responded by singing the praises of his boss, saying Harper led Canada through "the worst recession of our lifetimes" while still making investments.
He also defended the use of omnibus bills, which allow the government to amend, repeal or enact other legislation in one fell swoop.
In perhaps the most controversial example last year, the Harper government used a 167-page budget bill to retroactively rewrite Canada's access to information law to exempt all records from the abolished long-gun registry.
'When you're opposition, you oppose just to oppose'
Holder suggested that whether legislation arrives in single bills or as an omnibus packages, Liberals and NDP are just going to vote against them.
"I think the tragedy is sometimes, when you're opposition, you oppose just to oppose," he said.
But Young also claimed that Canada's international reputation has fallen under the Conservatives.
"We can't have people going around with their backpacks with a Canadian flag on it because they have to hide the fact that they're Canadian," she said. "What has happened?"
Holder responded by pointing to a recent international survey that found Canada is the "most admired" nation in the world.
Young told The Huffington Post Canada in a statement Thursday that Holder took her comments out of context.
"Of course I love this country – I wouldn't be running for office if I didn't," she said. "I have children and grandchildren and I want to do what I can so that the country they inherit will be one in which they can thrive."
Young said she is running because Canadians deserve a better government.
"I think Stephen Harper has diminished Canada's reputation on the world stage and in his own country and my comments were a reflection of the harm I believe he has done to our citizens and our country," she said.
Listen to the full debate. Young's remarks about Harper begin at the 39:00 mark:
On the same day Holder was blasting his opponent's "startling" announcement, London's Western University hosted a debate focused entirely on science policy and funding in Canada.
In a move that NDP candidate Matthew Rowlinson described to the London Free Press as "shocking," the incumbent science and technology minister did not attend. Young also skipped the event.
Holder told HuffPost in a statement that he skipped the debate because he was meeting voters at their doorsteps. He said he has already "knocked on thousands of doors" and attended numerous community events.
"I committed to doing five debates in this election," he said. "So far I have participated in three debates focused on issues in London West and expect to do two more."
Holder could have faced a bumpy reception. According to the Free Press, much of the discussion focused on treatment of federal scientists and allegations that the Harper government underfunds research.
Green Party candidate Dimitri Lascaris has recently taken to mocking Holder with a fake poster proclaiming him lost.
Tory candidates have reportedly been encouraged to skip debates and avoid talking to the media.
Last week, incumbent Tory candidate Susan Truppe, running again in London North Centre, was mocked online after skipping a debate at Western's Huron University College.
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