Ignatieff, Layton cross paths in Toronto

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and NDP Leader Jack Layton met briefly at a Khalsa Day event in Toronto Sunday, as they campaigned amid polls showing a tight battle for support between the two.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff shakes hands with NDP Leader Jack Layton at a Khalsa Day celebration Sunday, April 24, 2011 in Toronto. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton spoke just minutes apart at a cultural parade in Toronto on Sunday, the same day the Liberals took to the airwaves with paid programming amid recent polls suggesting a jump in NDP support.

Ignatieff and Layton both made appearances at the Khalsa Day parade, a Sikh celebration in Toronto. The two leaders shook hands, and each made a brief speech. Conservative candidate Jason Kenney also addressed the crowd.

"It is a day to acknowledge the incredible role of your community in the building and making and strenghening of Canada," Ignatieff told the crowd in his remarks.

"You've known so much success, but you have also known hardship. There is a bad memory that we all must confront honestly, which is the memory of Komagata Maru.

"This is a shame upon the history of Canada and it requires an apology in the Parliament of Canada so that we can acknowledge painful failures in the past and move forward together as one great people."

Layton also referenced the 1914 Komagata Maru incident —in which a ship carrying mostly Sikh passengers, who were British subjects, was turned away from Canada and forced to return to India — saying the NDP has pressed for a formal appology.

"I will not stop until the job is done. I will not stop until justice has spoken," he said. "We will continue to work for your families to be reunited, for the visas to be granted so that you can be together on special occassions with your families ... I will not stop until the contributions of Sikh Canadians are fully honoured by this country."

Leaders denounce vandalism

During a media availability in Toronto Sunday afternoon, Ignatieff took questions from reporters and condemned recent reports of election-related vandalism.

"We've got our problems with Mr. Harper, but we don't think he's slashing our tires. I want to make that clear," Ignatieff said with a chuckle.

"There are people out there who take partisanship to threatening extremes. The part of this that's serious is that every Canadian should be free to vote and free to express their political preferences and it's a bad day when in Toronto people who are working for another party or put a lawn sign up get their cars vandalized."

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper also condemned the vandalism while speaking in B.C.

"I'll just tell you, we suffer acts of vandalism as well. None of them are acceptable. They should not happen in a campaign," he said.

"A democratic campaign is ultimately based on tolerance of other partisan viewpoints. I've always said that we all have enough to do just trying to get our own views to the voter, cause we don't have enough time to run interference with other campaigns.... We absolutely condemn any such incidents by anybody, inside or outside political parties."

Harper encouraged all parties to report any incidents of vandalism.

The Liberals bought a half-hour of TV time on Sunday afternoon to feature what they called "Michael Ignatieff's Town Hall for Canada."

The broadcast aired between noon and 3 p.m. ET on Global and City TV stations, featuring footage from campaign events and clips of Ignatieff talking about his life and Liberal priorities.

In the video, Ignatieff is seen taking questions from audience members at recent rallies and explaining party pledges on everything from health care to the economy.

Ignatieff pressed on Quebec TV

Ignatieff also appeared Sunday night on Tout le monde en parle, a popular French-language TV talk show on Radio-Canada.

Ignatieff defended the decision to bring former prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin on the campaign trail, at the risk of voters associating them with the sponsorship scandal that contributed to his party’s fall from power five years ago.

Ignatieff told Sunday's edition of the Quebec TV talk show Tout le monde en parle that his one-on-one interactions with voters have him confident he can connect with them, despite his party's standstill in polls. (Radio-Canada)

"Mr. Chrétien put our public finances in order. He did lots of great things. He maintained the country’s national unity," Ignatieff said. "Mr. Martin did the same thing. He financed our public health care system. I'm proud of what they accomplished and that they're campaigning with me."

Martin has been campaigning in the formerly Liberal-held riding of Edmonton Centre and in Vancouver South, where the Grits eked out a narrow victory in the 2008 election. Chrétien is slated to speak at a Toronto-area rally this week. 

"Jean Chrétien was the prime minister at the heart of the sponsorship scandal. Does that not risk hurting you more than it helps?" Lepage wondered.

"Oh no, I don’t think so," Ignatieff replied in French. "We're in 2011. We've paid for all the consequences of past behaviour."

Lepage also asked him whether the NDP's apparent gains in recent polls meant Ignatieff had focused so much on attacking the right-wing Conservatives that he was now being "passed on the left."

The Liberal leader dodged the point somewhat, replying that Canadians are "looking at Mr. Layton up close, they’re looking up me up close … and I think they’re going to make a good choice."

During the show, Quebec actress Dominique Michel, star of the Oscar-winning film Les Invasions barbares (The Barbarian Invasions ) and a recent cancer survivor, said she supports Ignatieff.

"I really like Mr. Ignatieff," she said. "There’s people saying, ‘Oh, we’re tired of Harper.’ Well, if you’re tired of Harper, it’s time for change!"

'I have work to do'

The Liberal leader had fielded questions earlier Sunday about the NDP's polling strength and why his party is failing to win over voters.

"It's not that I'm in a bubble of illusion. I'm making phone calls on a daily basis, I'm talking to my candidates to see how things are going, and they're telling me that it's going quite well on the ground, in fact very well on the ground. So I'm not deluding myself, I have work to do," Ignatieff said in French.

He also addressed suggestions that his style of campaigning is failing to gain traction with the Canadian public.

"This isn't style. This is trying to do politics differently, and I've been doing it for 2½ years. I go out there, I stand up on a rainy Thursday night in a Legion hall and I take questions from the public. Mr. Harper hasn't taken unscripted questions from the public in five years," he said.

NDP under fire

The Liberals, Conservatives and Bloc Québécois have all taken aim at Layton and the NDP in recent days, after several polls suggested an apparent increase in support for the New Democrats.

Layton attended an Easter church service in Toronto and was set to spend part of the day with his family.

The NDP leader's trip to Toronto comes a day after he held a rally attended by more than 1,000 people in Laurier-Saint-Marie, the riding currently held by Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe.

Duceppe, who is taking a day off the campaign trail, will be joined by former Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau on Monday in an attempt to boost his poll numbers.

Meanwhile, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper continued his campaign swing though British Columbia, making stops in Victoria and Vancouver.

Harper was trying to muster up support in ridings that are considered tight races against the NDP. 

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With files from The Canadian Press