Tom Mulcair's words came back to bite him Sunday when a Liberal candidate released a quote from two decades ago in which the NDP leader, who was then a Quebec cabinet minister, used the term Newfie in a disparaging way.

Mulcair apologized Sunday for using the word Newfie as a synonym for stupid during a committee debate in Quebec's National Assembly back in 1996.

"I unreservedly apologize to anyone who might have taken offence at that statement made in the heat of a debate more than 20 years ago," Mulcair told reporters following a rally at the Sheraton Hotel in St. John's.

The quote was released by Nick Whalen, the Liberal candidate in St. John's East, just hours before Mulcair's noon rally.

Nick Whalen St. John's September

The quote was released just hours prior to Mulcair's rally by Liberal candidate Nick Whalen. Whalen is running in the district of St. John's East. (CBC)

Whalen told CBC News Sunday that he accepts Mulcair's apology, but believes the formal statement was long overdue.

Whalen, who was studying at Queen's University in the late 1990s, said he recalls it was "a difficult time" for Quebec.

"And I felt the stigma of being labelled a Newfie at times, and I felt additional pressure at people having a prejudice that we weren't as intelligent as other people but, in fact, we are," Whalen said.

But not all candidates were offended by Mulcair's 1996 statement.

Ryan Cleary, the NDP incumbent for St. John's South-Mount Pearl, told reporters that while he isn't a fan of the term Newfie, he believes Mulcair's apology was sincere. 

"I take him at his word," said Cleary.

"He's a friend of mine, he's a friend of Newfoundland and Labrador, he has Newfoundland and Labrador's back."

On Twitter, politicians and commentators alike chimed in.