By JEFF GRAY
Globe and Mail Update with Canadian Press
As the federal election campaign threatened to explode into a battle over allegations of "racism" in the Canadian Alliance, Liberal Leader Jean Chrétien urged the combatants to cool their rhetoric.
"Everybody in every camp should tone it down," he said in Winnipeg, the day after his Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan said "racists" and "Holocaust deniers" were among those supporting the Alliance.
But Mr. Chrétien did not urge Ms. Caplan to apologize, saying she didn't target all Alliance members, just a group led by Victoria lawyer Douglas Christie which is organizing an Alberta political rally.
Mr. Christie has defended Holocaust deniers in court and is a founding member of the Western Canada Concept, an independence movement that advocates ending immigration and preserving the West's Christian culture and European heritage.
"She said there is a group of Holocaust deniers who are supporting them," Mr. Chrétien said. "I know that Mr. Christie and his group are organizing a meeting."
Asked if these people are bigots, Mr. Chrétien said: "This group, in my sense, they are... She did not say that the Alliance was."
The Liberal Leader said the Alliance seems to be getting "touchy," considering their own penchant for personal digs. "They are attacking me, day in, day out, all the time," he said. "I'm not complaining. I know that in politics you take and you receive and you hit back."
Tuesday night, Ms. Caplan told Liberal supporters and reporters north of Toronto that Mr. Christie is holding a pro-Alliance rally, and said people should "judge [Mr. Day] by the people who support him."
Also citing the comments of Alliance MP for Calgary Centre Eric Lowther, who has mused about holding a referendum on immigration, she said, "that kind of opinion, that anti-immigrant, racist, bigoted opinion is not something the Liberal Party would tolerate."
At a press conference Wednesday, Mr. Day was asked to react to Ms. Caplan's remarks. "For me to even comment on Ms. Caplan's ridiculous statements, the only thing I can hope for, of course, is that the electorate will deal with that type of low-level approach in a campaign that does not dignify a response," Mr. Day told a news conference Wednesday morning.
"It would be like me saying that because the Liberals have a candidate in Calgary who is purported to have communist Afghanistan connections, that that's the policy of Jean Chrétien," Mr. Day said, adding that the Liberals have "abandoned truth in this campaign." He also said that the Alliance does not condone Mr. Christie's group.
Saying that Heritage Minister Sheila Copps "was running around shrieking about the Canadian Alliance closing national parks," he said the Liberal attacks were "lies."
"These are lies, and people need to be held accountable for that," Mr. Day said. "We discuss policies based on merit. We invite other people to discuss them at that level."
He said that the "shrill, unsubstantiated accusations" show the Liberals "have panicked, they are in fear of losing power." The Liberals are "trying to taint by false association" and are "stooping to the very lowest elements of discussion in our society."
Answering a reporter's question, Mr. Day also slammed the CBC TV for running a feature on Tuesday night that discussed Mr. Day's stands on issues such as abortion, gay rights and evolution.
He called the story "yellow journalism," saying it was "dredging up things that have been dealt with months and months ago." And was also critical of the CBC for not giving him the opportunity to respond "at the time, in the same piece. It's no good the day after."
The CBC documentary included clips from an academic who said Mr. Day discussed creationism during a closed speech in Red Deer.
Pliny Hayes, chair of the department of natural sciences at Red Deer College, said Mr. Day told the crowd he believed the world was 6,000 years old, that people walked with dinosaurs, that there was no more proof for evolutionism than creationism and that creationism should be considered part of the school curriculum.
When Mr. Day was asked about his beliefs by reporters at the press conference, he said he didn't think his beliefs "should be used in any kind of detrimental way in an election campaign."
“I don't think I should have to debate the interpretation of Genesis any more than I would expect Jean Chrétien or Joe Clark to have to debate the Catholic teachings on. . . immaculate conception.”
Mr. Day's spokesman Phil Von Finckenstein said the Alliance believes that other theories of creation should be taught alongside evolution in schools, but he also recognizes education is a provincial jurisdiction.
Mr. Day was once a lay-pastor for a Pentecostal church, but now that he is running for the job of prime minister, he only reluctantly discusses his religious beliefs, even when they've become a source of controversy.
However, NDP Leader Alexa McDonough said Mr. Day has opened himself up to the unfavourable scrutiny. It's fair game to examine whether a candidate's political values violate their personal values if the two overlap, she said during a news conference in Toronto.
"When you see the kind of super-religiosity and the kind of picking and choosing of principles that seem to characterize the Alliance leader, then people are right to examine very closely what those principles and values are that he holds dear - and what the contradictions very often are between what he spouts and what he practises.”