Y! Exclusive: Harinder Takhar takes on critics of his Ontario Liberal leadership bid

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

This post was updated at 10:30pm EST

Here is the understatement of the Ontario Liberal leadership race: the Toronto Star isn't a fan of leadership candidate Harinder Takhar.

Over the past couple of months, the newspaper has written some scathing stories about the Indo-Canadian MPP from Mississauga-Erindale with headlines such as: 'Harinder Takhar no beacon of renewal for Ontario’s Liberals' and 'Harinder Takhar as deputy premier is a scary thought'.

In the latter, writer Martin Regg Cohn called him an "impersonator", accused of him running an ethnic campaign and even questioned his narrative of being impoverished when he first came to Canada.

In an article for Oyetimes.com, lawyer Viresh Fernando characterizes the Star's latest column — about the activities of a company in Takhar's blind trust — as "unabashedly racist."

[ Related: Ontario Liberal leadership candidate calls police over fake interview ]

For his part, Takhar says that he's not sure what to make of the flurry of Toronto Star articles.

"It's interesting, I don't even know [Cohn]," Takhar said during a telephone interview with Yahoo! Canada News on Tuesday.

"I don't know what to say. Maybe this guys is getting his cues, maybe he has his own agenda or maybe someone is working with him. But I don't pay any attention to him. I just laugh it off."

That's a comment that Cohn takes exception to.

In an email exchange with Yahoo!, Cohn wonders why Takhar is looking for "ulterior motives."

"Journalists hold up a mirror to politicians, and if they don't like being held accountable for their actions -- including the judgments of the Integrity Commissioner -- they perhaps should not aspire to the highest elected office in the province," Cohn said referring to an incident in 2006 when the province's Integrity Commissioner reprimanded Takhar for not keeping his business affairs at arms-length.

"He might also consider playing by the same rules as everyone else -- such as declaring the start of his campaign promptly, rather than clinging to his ministerial office until the last minute in defiance of the premier's request."

With regard to the allegation about his campaign primarily focusing on Indo-Canadian Liberal members and delegates, Takhar says he's done nothing wrong.

"We shouldn't be pigeon-holing people into different groups. We are all Canadians, we are all Ontarions. I have been here for 38 years. I got married here, my kids were born here, they graduated from here. I see everybody as Ontarians and see everybody as Canadians," he said.

"You focus on your strengths and that's what you do. That's what this business is all about."

Takhar — who goes into this weekend's leadership convention at 4th place with 244 (13.3 per cent) of the total delegates — says he's now focused on attracting second ballot votes.

Some have suggested he could be a kingmaker — his first ballot delegates could go a long way in helping either Sandra Pupatello or Kathleen Wynne into the premier's chair —but he says he's in this to win it.

"The conventions are a funny place," he said.

[ Related: Liberals appear poised to give Ontario its first-ever woman premier ]

"Our emphasis is to connect with each and every delegate of our own but also connect with the delegates of the other camps as well and ask them for the second ballot support."

The former minister of government services touts his 100 day action plan which focuses on deficit reduction, on job creation and a new integrated transit system.

Specifically, Takhar says he can balance Ontario's budget by 2016/17 by buoying the small business sector, looking at inefficiencies in government and reducing the public sector workforce by 3 per cent through attrition and retirement.

The leadership convention gets underway in Toronto on Friday.