A Liberal MP resigned his caucus post as energy critic after inadvertently tossing what amounts to a stink bomb into the Calgary Centre federal by-election campaign by telling a reporter that Conservative politicians who defend the oil patch are petty, small-minded and should "go back to Alberta."
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae apologized Wednesday for incendiary comments made by David McGuinty, member of Parliament for Ottawa South, as the party scrambled to limit any damage inflicted in the closely fought Calgary contest.
The Harper government – including the Prime Minister's Office itself – quickly seized on the remarks in an effort to hurt Liberal support in the Alberta riding, where polls suggest the opposition party has been running a close second to Tory candidate Joan Crockatt for the Nov. 26 by-election.
Calgary Centre Liberal candidate Harvey Locke tried to distance himself from Mr. McGuinty, a brother of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.
"I don't know what he was thinking but he sure as hell wasn't speaking for me," said Mr. Locke, a well-known environmentalist who's been talking during the election campaign about ways to open up new markets for Alberta's oil and gas industry.
"I just can't understand what was on David's mind – but it wasn't very much," he said.
On Tuesday, Mr. McGuinty disparaged Conservative MPs for their unreserved support for Alberta's petroleum industry in comments to a Sun Media reporter.
"They are national legislators with a national responsibility, but they come across as very, very small-p provincial individuals who are jealously guarding one industrial sector, picking the fossil-fuel business and the oil-sands business specifically, as one that they're going to fight to the death for," Mr. McGuinty said.
"They really should go back to Alberta and run either for municipal council in a city that's deeply affected by the oil-sands business or go run for the Alberta legislature," Mr. McGuinty said.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Mr. McGuinty released a statement saying he "unreservedly and unequivocally" apologized for comments "which I made with respect to Parliamentary colleagues from the province of Alberta."
"My words in no way reflect the views of my party or leader, and I offer my apology to them as well as my colleagues from Alberta," he said.
The Liberals haven't won a federal seat in Calgary since 1968 but recent opinion surveys suggested Mr. Locke was closing the gap on Ms. Crockatt.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, a Calgary MP and political minister for southern Alberta, called Mr. McGuinty's remarks "deeply offensive" to Albertans.
Andrew MacDougall, the director of communications for the PMO, used Twitter to circulate Mr. McGuinty's gaffe: "Hey # yyc voters! Grit David McGuinty has a message for AB," he wrote, linking to a story on the remarks. "Only @Crockatteer will stand up for Alberta. Vote #cpc," he wrote, linking to Ms. Crockatt's Twitter handle.
In apologizing for Mr. McGuinty's comments, Mr. Rae said he didn't believe the Ontario MP was trying to cause offence but acknowledged they were unhelpful. The Liberal Leader reminded journalists of Stephen Harper's gaffe back in 2002 where he said Atlantic Canada had a "culture of defeat" that needed to be overcome.
"I am sure the Prime Minister might like to reflect on his words about 'culture of defeat' … we all make mistakes and certainly this counts as one."
Mount Royal University political scientist Keith Brownsey said he doesn't believe the McGuinty remarks will make a noticeable difference in Calgary Centre.
He said he expects that strong support for the Green Party in the riding will siphon enough potential votes away from the Liberals that Ms. Crockatt will win – a scenario that has nothing to do with Mr. McGuinty.
"In by-elections, it's local issues that count. It's not something that some member of Parliament from Ottawa says."