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Ont. minister Glen Murray issued this tweet on Saturday accusing Toronto mayor-elect Rob Ford of bigotry. ((CBC) )

An Ontario cabinet minister is apologizing for posts on Twitter in which he accused Toronto's new mayor Rob Ford of bigotry.

Research and Innovation Minister Glen Murray posted in a Saturday tweet — two days ahead of Toronto's municipal election — that "If u vote Ford u r voting for bigotry." He also took aim at Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak and Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a tweet later that day.

Murray retweeted a post from another user calling Ford, Hudak and Harper the "trifecta of Republican-style, right-wing ignorance and bigotry."

Murray's tweets brought swift condemnation from Hudak, who called them libellous and called on Premier Dalton McGuinty to ask the minister to apologize or step down.

"The minister's comments were absolutely unacceptable and beneath his office," said Hudak Tuesday morning in the legislature.

Apology includes jab at Hudak

A few hours later, Murray issued a statement that said: "I do not believe Rob Ford or Stephen Harper or Tim Hudak are bigots. I regret tweeting a message that said otherwise, and am sorry that I did."

But his statement also said that he challenges Hudak to "condemn strongly the hateful campaigning deployed in Toronto and to root out any of those working in his ranks who would try to exploit hatred with smear tactics."

He was referring to a radio advertisement that ran over the weekend on the Canadian Tamil Broadcasting Corporation. The Tamil-language advertisement voiced support for Ford because — among other things — "his wife is a woman."

Ford's main rival, George Smitherman, is openly gay and is married and adopted a baby boy earlier this year. Murray is also gay.

Ford prevailed in Monday's election, beating Smitherman by a margin of almost 94,000 votes.

It is not immediately clear who paid for the advertisement, and the radio station has yet to comment. The Ford camp disavowed the advertisement and said they had nothing to do with it.

McGuinty said politics gets heated once in a while and he's not blaming anyone who said something they might regret later.  

"When the results were in, the particular minister extended his best wishes on Twitter to the mayor-elect of the city of Toronto, Rob Ford," McGuinty said.

With files from The Canadian Press