TORONTO - A controversial tweet by a rookie Ontario cabinet minister accusing several Conservative politicians _ including Prime Minister Stephen Harper _ of being bigots had Premier Dalton McGuinty on the defensive for a second day Wednesday.
Innovation Minister Glen Murray was forced to issue an apology Tuesday for tweeting that Harper, Ontario Opposition Leader Tim Hudak and Toronto Mayor-elect Rob Ford were bigots, but Hudak complained it wasn't a sincere mea culpa.
"It's an outrageous accusation and the minister should do the right thing and publicly state he is sorry for his remarks," Hudak said Wednesday.
"The right thing to do is clearly and unconditionally apologize, but unfortunately all we get is apologies with buts and more allegations."
Murray said in a written apology that he regretted sending the tweet, but had been very upset by homophobic ads and anti-gay tactics that surfaced in the final days of the Toronto mayoral campaign.
In the apology, Murray also challenged Hudak to "root out any of those working in his ranks who would try to exploit hatred with smear tactics," which again upset the Opposition leader.
"For a minister of the Crown to suggest that the Ontario PC Party, anybody on my team, my colleagues, had anything to do with this is reprehensible," said Hudak. "It is insulting. It is way across the line."
McGuinty said Wednesday that Hudak should simply accept Murray's apology and "move on" to more important issues.
"I think we're going a little bit too far when we begin to parse an apology, and now we're trying to define the quality of the apology," McGuinty told reporters.
"Politics can be rough and tumble. Sometimes you can get carried away and cross the line and you can say something that in hindsight you regret. I think this is clearly one of those cases."
Murray repeated his apology in the legislature Wednesday, but with hands shaking and voice cracking, he again focused on the homophobic tactics that surfaced in the Toronto mayoral campaign.
"My poor choice of words has distracted us from a substantive issue," he said.
"The real issue for me is the use of homophobic smears in the final days of this week's municipal campaign."
Outside the legislature, Murray insisted he had wasn't blaming anyone for the anti-gay actions in the mayoral race, even though he named Harper, Hudak and Ford in his tweet.
"I was very clear in my apology. I used a word I shouldn't have," Murray told reporters.
"It was a very stressful and distressing few days for us; I haven't experienced that kind of hate in my life on that level, and I did something in a moment that I regret. I've apologized for it and I hope we can close this matter."
Murray also finally said he was sorry for suggesting in his apology that Hudak was harbouring anti-gay members in the Tory caucus.
"Certainly I was not implying that in his party, very clearly not meaning to do that," he said. "I apologize for it."
McGuinty too insisted the Liberals were not suggesting the Tories were homophobic.
"There is no intention—I want to make this clear—on the part of our government, or any member of our caucus, to in any way assign fault or blame or use innuendo or any such thing to malign, defame, slander, undermine the official opposition," McGuinty told the legislature. "I want to make that perfectly clear."
However, Hudak said it's now up to McGuinty to make sure Murray issues a clear and unequivocal apology if he wants the issue of the tainted tweet to go away.
"The premier is just out of touch and is showing an extraordinary lack of leadership on what should be a very simple decision," said Hudak.
"If I were premier and a minister conducted himself in this way, and didn't issue a clear apology, the minister would be gone from cabinet."