LONDON, Ont. - Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is calling on Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak to apologize for referring to new Canadian citizens as foreigners, using controversy over a relatively small tax credit proposal to try to brand his opponent as xenophobic.
The $10,000 tax credit would offset training costs for up to one year for new Canadian citizens who have been here five years or less and are in professions such as architecture, accounting or engineering.
The cost of the program is pegged at just $12 million and would only help a relative few — the Liberals estimate up to 1,200 people a year — but it is one of the most talked-about issues of the campaign thus far.
Hudak has derided the plan as an "affirmative action program to hire foreign workers."
"I'm going to ask him to find an opportunity to apologize to those new Canadian citizens, Ontarians, who he referenced as foreigners or foreign workers, when he well understands that in Ontario there's no us and them," McGuinty said Sunday, after attending a 9-11 memorial event. "It's just us."
The Tories say Hudak doesn't need to apologize.
Minutes after McGuinty's remarks were reported, the Tories were offering up candidate Vic Gupta to comment. The candidate in Richmond Hill, north of Toronto, said Hudak first used the foreigners term when fewer details were known about the Liberal plan.
"We were responding to the policy as it was first announced," Gupta said. "No matter how the Liberals try to spin it, this is an affirmative action plan that helps some and doesn't help others."
McGuinty took Saturday off from campaigning, but two Liberals, including campaign chair Greg Sorbara held an event to talk about the details of the program. They made it clear the proposal is directed at Canadian citizens, though because of the at least four years and seven months it takes to get citizenship, the cap of five years or less for this program does make it quite restrictive.
Still, when responding to McGuinty's call for an apology, Gupta himself actually used the phrase "new Canadians," not once uttering the word foreign.
Speaking at a campaign stop in Hamilton, Hudak maintained his stance on the program hasn't changed.
"When the Liberals launched this program, they said it was an affirmative action program for foreign workers ... Now the Liberals are in full damage-control mode, they're spinning out new versions of this, who knows what they're going to say tomorrow?
"But no matter how you cut it, it is an affirmative action program that is unequal and unfair and I stand against it."
It remains to be seen whether the gamble of using — and defending — his choice of words and his decision to slam the Liberals over this program will pay off for Hudak.
But it was clear that after a week of attacks, McGuinty was trying to take the issue back, using most of his time with the media Sunday portraying the Hudak as xenophobic and the Liberals as a big, welcoming umbrella for newcomers to Ontario.
"It's really not that complicated," McGuinty said. "We've been working for a long time ... telling people from around the world, 'Come here, you're going to find opportunity here, and by the way, when you come here, once you're a citizen, we don't call you a foreigner anymore. We don't see you as a foreigner anymore."