Michael Ignatieff's campaigning Thursday included a five-minute interview with a Sikh journalist who was once accused of threatening a Liberal MP - a situation that prompted scrambling by the Liberal campaign to explain the one-on-one phone call.
The short conversation with Brampton-based Sukhminder Hansra of Ankhila Punjab touched on issues of immigration and the Conservative ethnic-outreach strategy, but did not deal directly with Mr. Hansra's past controversial comments.
In 2007, Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh - an outspoken critic of Sikh extremism in British Columbia - complained to the RCMP that an editorial written by Mr. Hansra for another media outlet was a threat.
The controversy revolves around the Vaisakhi parade in Surrey, B.C., which in 2007 included a float that some criticized as portraying the mastermind of the 1985 Air India bombing as a martyr. The Air India bombing was inspired by a campaign for a separate Sikh homeland in what is now India.
The parade prompted a broader debate about whether politicians realize what they may be endorsing when they participate. Mr. Hansra's editorial criticized Mr. Dosanjh for expressing concern about the parade.
"About two decades ago, Ujjal Dosanjh uttered heart-breaking words about the martyrs of the Sikh struggle. As a result, one of the Guru's loved ones gave him a good thrashing. Such things are not accepted in these peaceful countries but …," wrote Mr. Hansra, leaving the sentence unfinished, according to a report on the CBC website.
CBC journalist Terry Milewski - who covered the Air India story for years as a Vancouver-based reporter - asked Mr. Ignatieff Thursday morning why he was scheduled to be interviewed by Mr. Hansra given his history.
"There's no place for extremism in that community, never has been and never will," Mr. Ignatieff responded. "I'll evaluate that interview and if there's any question of taking part in an interview which gives license to political extremism, I'll have nothing to do with it."
But after the Liberals looked into the matter, they found that Mr. Hansra is regularly interviewed by the CBC and has also had his picture taken with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.
"The Liberal Party rejects anything that advocates violence, and this interview is in no way an endorsement of the interviewer's views," spokesman Daniel Lauzon said. "To be sure, Mr. Hansra has said controversial things in the past; but he has an established mainstream presence both in his capacity as a journalist, but also as a regular contributor in other mainstream media, including CBC radio ( As it Happens ... and The Sunday Edition) and other respected media outlets."
Mr. Ignatieff then switched the topic to the Conservative campaign, which is on the defensive after a note from a party organizer suggested supporters wear ethnic costumes.
"These are not costumes for heaven's sakes, this isn't Disney Land. Canada isn't Disney Land. Ethnic groups do not want to be treated in this way," he said.
During the interview, Mr. Hansra asked Mr. Ignatieff why he has not been seen in Brampton, a claim Mr. Ignatieff rejected, saying his mouth was ajar at the suggestion.
Mr. Hansra ended the interview this way: "I just want to wish everybody Vaisakhi greetings on your bus, on your crew, your campaign team, as well as all the journalists who are listening, especially the CBC Terry Milewski. Happy Vaisakhi."
"Happy Vaisakhi to you sir," Mr. Ignatieff replied.
Mr. Dosanjh told reporters Thursday he hopes Mr. Hansra is making a genuine attempt to become part of the mainstream in terms of public commentary. Choosing his words carefully, Mr. Dosanjh did not criticize Mr. Ignatieff's decision to grant the interview.
"It's important to be able to engage, rather than not engage," he said, noting that he bears no personal grudges against anyone. "I'm not a vengeful guy."
Aside from that issue, Mr. Ignatieff was hoping to frame the terms of the last half of the election campaign as a question largely focused on his chief rival.
The Liberal Leader raised eyebrows this week with back-to-back debate performances that were largely focused on attacking the Conservative Leader's record in Parliament rather than highlighting what a Liberal government would do in power.
Speaking with reporters the morning after the debates, Mr. Ignatieff's answers made clear that it was a deliberate strategy on his part.
"The key issue in the campaign is: Can you trust Stephen Harper with democracy? It was very important to get that message across, and I think I did in both debates," he said.
While Mr. Harper and NDP Leader Jack Layton quickly left Ottawa after the debates, Mr. Ignatieff is staying in the area.
His morning event was at a hardware store in Gatineau, a riding that is shaping up as an interesting three-way race. The riding is currently held by the Bloc Québécois - and Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe also started his day in the riding.
However, the NDP has high hopes that its candidate, Françoise Boivin, can win the seat, which she held from 2004 to 2006 as a Liberal MP.
Mr. Ignatieff promised a Liberal government would support the construction of a new bridge joining Gatineau and Ottawa. Many public servants cross the area's bridges each day and congestion is always a major issue during rush hour.
"A Liberal government will move the project forward. It will be a great project for the 150th anniversary of Canada, 2017, to build a bridge over the river binding the two provinces together. It's a symbol," he said.
Mr. Ignatieff said it would be up to the community and the National Capital Commission to decide where the bridge would go. No money is set aside in the Liberal platform to deliver on this promise.
Later Thursday, Mr. Ignatieff heads about an hour-and-a-half east of Ottawa to St. Isodore, which is in the Conservative-held riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell. Former Liberal candidate Don Boudria used to win that riding with some of the largest margins in the country.
Liberals say the pace of the leader's tour will now pick up. Friday he will be in Sudbury and Regina, leading up to a Saturday-night rally in Edmonton with former prime minister Paul Martin, who will then travel with Mr. Ignatieff to Vancouver on Sunday.Report Typo/Error