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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff gives the thumbs up as he and his wife Zsuzsanna Zsohar take the elevator after a campaign stop in Winnipeg on April 19, 2011. (JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff gives the thumbs up as he and his wife Zsuzsanna Zsohar take the elevator after a campaign stop in Winnipeg on April 19, 2011. (JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ignatieff assails Tory no-shows - but admits he'll miss his own local debate Add to ...

Michael Ignatieff says empty Conservative seats at local candidates debates are another example of how his rivals don't respect democracy.

Pointing to new reports of Tory no-shows at local debates in the Greater Toronto Area, the Liberal Leader said stated Conservative reasons for missing debates - that they chose to be out campaigning instead - can't be believed.

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"These excuses strain credulity," he said. "I think it's just absolutely basic to democratic politics, you show up."

Mr. Ignatieff acknowledged that he will not be attending all-candidates debates in his own riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore because of his duties to campaign nationally.

Still, Mr. Ignatieff said he hopes the symbolism of empty chairs will work in his party's favour.

"Empty chairs - and there are a lot of empty Conservative chairs at debates - say exactly what these people think about democracy. It's a flagrant lack of respect for citizens. A lot of people come to these debates to make up their mind. And when they see an empty Conservative chair they're going to make up their mind: These people don't respect us," he said.

Mr. Ignatieff was speaking at a Tuesday morning news conference in Winnipeg, where he was highlighting his party's pledge to spend $250-million on a fresh water strategy, which will include flood prevention plans.

His tour then flies to the GTA, where he will take part in a multicultural media roundtable, sit down for an interview with the CBC's Peter Mansbridge and speak at an evening rally in Brampton.

Dimitri Soudas, Mr. Harper's communications director, said the Conservative Leader was not likely to attend any all-candidates debates in his riding.

"Party leaders typically campaign across the country," he said. "The voters of Calgary Southwest have told the prime minister to campaign nationally."

With a report from John Ibbitson

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