With just two months to go until the Toronto mayoral election, candidates are sharpening their attacks against one another – with John Tory slamming Olivia Chow Wednesday for "failing to take accountability" for a campaign operative who accused Tory of "segregationist" policies.
Prominent Chow campaign strategist Warren Kinsella apologized to Mr. Tory Wednesday, after describing the mayoral candidate's transit plan as "segregationist." But Ms. Chow herself has distanced herself from the comments, referring to Mr. Kinsella as a "volunteer" – even though he has played a key role in her campaign as the head of her rapid-response "war room" since its launch.
"That is not leadership, not to accept responsibility for this," Mr. Tory told reporters Wednesday. "You've got a choice here: You can cut Mr. Kinsella and his comments loose and declare them for what they are, which is dirty politics and completely unacceptable, or you can cut him a cheque. But you can't do both."
Mr. Kinsella raised eyebrows Tuesday after he tweeted "Is John Tory's Smart Track, you know, Segregationist Track?" The tweet was accompanied by a Photoshopped image of Mr. Tory set against the backdrop of his transit plan, with the text "You will note we were careful to exclude Jane/Finch & Rexdale from SmartTrack."
This marks the first time that the Chow and Tory campaigns have raised the spectre of dirty politics within their camps. The Tory campaign wasted no time, despite Mr. Kinsella's apology, calling a news conference to lash out at Ms. Chow – and to focus on the tweet, rather than the transit policy announcement she had made just hours earlier.
Around the same time as his "segregationist" tweet, Mr. Kinsella also tweeted: "@johntoryTO: if you don't come from his demographic, he doesn't give a – if you lose transit service."
By Wednesday, Mr. Kinsella had offered an apology to Mr. Tory on his blog.
"I unreservedly and genuinely express apologies for hurting your feelings," Mr. Kinsella wrote. "I don't think you are George Wallace. And I've deleted the tweet to make that crystal clear."
In a follow-up e-mail to The Globe and Mail, he added: "I don't think he's racist at all, and I'd apologize to him if he's genuinely offended."
But in a news conference, Ms. Chow described Mr. Kinsella as a "volunteer" who doesn't speak on behalf of her campaign. Still, she later acknowledged that her campaign has hired his firm, Daisy Consulting, to conduct media monitoring.
"I do not believe Mr. Tory discriminates. My campaign did not say that," she said. "Mr. Kinsella does not speak on behalf of this campaign. I'm glad he apologized."
Mr. Tory called Mr. Kinsella's comments "completely unacceptable," but saved his most scathing remarks for Ms. Chow and her response. And while he stopped short of calling on her to personally apologize, he demanded she "accept real responsibility."
"I noted with interest this morning and profound dismay and regret that, when given the chance to take accountability and accept responsibility for this, Olivia Chow said 'this is just one of my thousands of volunteers' – as if the man in question had kind of wandered into her office and put a few stamps on envelopes," he said.
Ms. Chow's spokesman Jamey Heath later accused Mr. Tory of playing politics.
"The campaign did not authorize it, did not agree to it, and does not support it," he said. "What Tory is not doing is to accept the apology from the person who said it."
This is not the first time the issue of race has come up during the mayoral campaign. In April, Ms. Chow raised eyebrows after she was asked in an online chat with The Toronto Star what separates her from former mayor David Miller.
"I'm not white. Not male," she said. "Want to start there?"
With a report from Oliver Moore