WINNIPEG - Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is accusing the Tories of dividing Canadians through personal attacks on his patriotism and by dredging up controversial remarks about Ukrainians made 15 years ago.
During a stop in Winnipeg Thursday - part of an election-style tour of the west - Ignatieff told a friendly Liberal crowd that the Conservatives are undermining what makes Canada great by attacking his commitment to the country and multiculturalism.
By criticizing him in attack ads for living outside Canada for many years, Ignatieff said the Tories are insulting everyone who was born outside of Canada or works in another country.
"When they attack me, they are actually attacking the thing that makes us a great society - that hunger to succeed," he said to applause.
"I'm proud to have been out of the country. I'm proud to measure myself against the best the world can offer and I'm proud to have come back to serve."
Ignatieff has come under attack recently in national television ads accusing him of "just visiting" Canada while a pamphlet sent by Treasury Board President Vic Toews to his Manitoba constituents quotes comments Ignatieff made about Ukrainians years ago.
The pamphlet contains excerpts from Ignatieff's 1993 book "Blood and Belonging," in which Ignatieff refers to Ukrainians as "little Russians." Ignatieff also wrote that Ukrainian independence conjures up images of "phoney cossacks in cloaks and boots, nasty anti-Semites."
Ignatieff dismissed the attacks saying he was simply summing up unfounded Ukrainian stereotypes.
"There is a paragraph in that book which refers to negative stereotypes of Ukrainian people - stereotypes which I absolutely and utterly and unequivocally disassociate myself," he told reporters. "This is the politics of division and I won't play that game."
As he continued to be dogged by questions about the comments, Ignatieff said the Tory attacks say more about the Conservatives than they do about him and his beliefs.
"The Conservatives specialize in a politics which sets one group of Canadians against another. That's their modus operandi," Ignatieff said, adding it won't win them votes come election time. "Ukrainians don't like that any more than any other group of Canadians."
Ignatieff's comments about Ukrainians were brought up in 2005 when Ignatieff first ran for office. Some members of the Ukrainian community protested outside the Liberal party headquarters in Toronto.
Ignatieff said at the time that his comments had been taken out of context.
As he rallied the faithful in Winnipeg, Ignatieff told them "the West matters intensely to the Liberal party of Canada." The Liberals only hold one seat in Manitoba but Ignatieff said the party can't be truly national if it doesn't have representatives from across the country.