09/15/2011 09:23 EDT | Updated 01/12/2012 02:11 EST

Group at PC rally protest foreign workers label, drags issue back into spotlight

MARKHAM, Ont. - The foreign workers issue has reared its head on the election campaign once again, this time resurrected by a small group of protesters outside an evening rally by Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.

The group of about 20 young people wore anti-Hudak T-shirts and carried signs with slogans such as "All Ontarians deserve respect."

They said they didn't all know each other but came together in Markham on Thursday evening because they were against the "foreign workers" label Hudak had slapped on new Canadians.

Group members denied being affiliated with any other political party but many refused to speak to the media and hid their faces from view with signs, scarves or hoods.

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.

Protester Mark Addo, who admitted he didn't know all the details of the disputed tax credit, said he was taking issue with Hudak's choice of words.

"I'm just angry that Canadians are being considered as foreigners," he said, adding that his family came to Canada as new immigrants a number of years ago.

Another group member, who demanded respect for new Canadians, said the protesters were given the T-shirts and signs they toted by an organizer who wasn't present. The group chanted "We're not foreigners" repeatedly before walking away together once Hudak's rally was underway.

The Liberal tax credit, even though it is one which would actually impact just a handful of people, was front and centre early in the campaign with Premier Dalton McGuinty suggesting Hudak was xenophobic and the Tory leader maintaining that it was an "affirmative action program."

The controversy petered out earlier this week after Hudak stepped away from the issue, choosing to focus instead on his own party's tax relief platform.