Ontario cabinet minister Glen Murray has apologized for a tweet accusing Toronto's newly-elected mayor Rob Ford, Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of bigotry.
"I do not believe Rob Ford or Stephen Harper or Tim Hudak are bigots," Glen Murray, Minister of Research and Innovation, said in a written statement Tuesday afternoon. "I regret tweeting a message that said otherwise, and am sorry that I did."
Mr. Murray, who was not in the provincial legislature on Tuesday, issued the statement after he came under fire during Question Period for comments he made on his Twitter account on the weekend.
"If u vote Ford u r voting for bigotry," Mr. Murray tweeted. He also repeated a message from another user that said, "ford, hudak and harper - the trifecta of republican-style, right wing ignorance and bigotry."
Mr. Hudak called on Premier Dalton McGuinty during Question Period to apologize on behalf of the absent Mr. Murray. Not only were the comments offensive and libelous, Mr. Hudak said, they were beneath the role of a cabinet minister.
"Sir, if you don't call for an immediate public apology from the minister, will you then ask him to resign?" Mr. Hudak asked.
Mr. Murray's apology did not end the controversy. In a hastily-called news conference Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Hudak said far from offering an unconditional apology, Mr. Murray has simply made matters worse with more "baseless" accusations.
"I am insulted by Mr. Murray's refusal to take responsibility for his own statements," Mr. Hudak said.
Mr. Murray, who is openly gay, also accused the three right-wing leaders in another tweet of using "fear tactics" against Tamils and gay men. This appeared to be a not-so-subtle reference to a Tamil radio advertisement and derogatory signs during the final weekend of Toronto's mayoral race that denigrated Mr. Ford's rival, George Smitherman, for his sexual orientation.
Mr. Ford has said neither he nor his campaign were behind the signs or the radio spot, which he condemned as absolutely wrong. Mr. Murray also challenged Mr. Hudak in his statement to condemn the derogatory signs and to "root out any of those working in his ranks who would try to exploit hatred with smear tactics."
Mr. Murray went on to say he has spent his entire life fighting against discrimination. The former mayor of Winnipeg was elected a Liberal MPP last February after winning a by-election race in Mr. Smitherman's old riding of Toronto Centre.
"As a gay man, father, and politician," he said in the statement, "I think it's important that we stand up against hate."
Mr. Hudak vowed that he is not going to let up. If he were in Mr. McGuinty's place, he added, he would remove Mr. Murray from cabinet.
During Question Period, Mr. McGuinty said he was not going to speak on behalf of his absent minister.
"It's not unusual for things to be said in the heat of the moment that some of us might regret having said," he said.
The controversy was at odds with the tone the Premier attempted to set following Mr. Ford's victory. Mr. McGuinty took the high road, vowing to find common ground with Mr. Ford, a leader whose right-wing political views are sharply at odds with his own middle-of-the-road Liberal policies.
"I don't think that the public have a heck of a lot of patience for somehow any of us allowing political stripes to get in the way of making progress," Mr. McGuinty told reporters Tuesday morning.
If he is worried about the Liberal stronghold in the Greater Toronto Area crumbling in the provincial election next October, as some experts are predicting, he isn't saying.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath played down the shift to the hard right and said: "This race, not only in Toronto but across the province, really was about people wanting to see some change."