Toronto – As thousands of Canadian Sikhs celebrated Khalsa Day at Toronto’s Queen’s Park, Liberal and New Democratic Party leaders Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton made a brief stop at the event. The two shook hands when their campaigns collided.
No, it wasn’t a New Democratic Party parade. Khalsa Day, an annual tradition for tens of thousands in the city of Toronto since 1986, transformed University Avenue into a street of orange. The event was hosted at Queen’s Park, which contained music, food, celebration and political photo opportunities for political leaders and candidates.
Sunday’s big celebrations occurred eight days until Canadian voters head to the polls. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff arrived on the scene sporting a red dastaar in honour of the Sikh traditions. The Member of Parliament for Etobicoke-Lakeshore caused frenzy as media personnel, campaign staff and supporters swarmed the Liberal leader like a pack of bees.
Of course, the photo-ops of Ignatieff making cotton candy, shaking hands with various members of the Sikh community and looking at a Queen’s Park stone that his “father planted,” couldn’t have been complete without a speech.
“It is a day to acknowledge the incredible role of your community in the building and making and strengthening of Canada,” said Ignatieff. “Sikhs have been here for 100 years or more. You have built this great country and we have built it together side by side.”
He promised the thousands in attendance that if he became Prime Minister he would implement initiatives for the victims’ families in the 1984 massacre of Sikhs in India. “This is a shame upon the history of Canada,” said Ignatieff.
Arriving 15 minutes late, and ahead of his Liberal opponent, NDP leader Jack Layton came in a clandestine black minivan sporting an orange dastaar. Doing a walk and talk, Layton said in interviews that he was proud to be participating in this year’s festivities and that it will be one tough last week ahead of the election.
Layton, who is attempting to keep his second-place momentum, also spoke to the crowd and made similar promises that Ignatieff did, including increased efforts to help those who were victims of the 1984 massacre.
“I will not stop until the job is done. I will not stop until justice has spoken,” said Layton. “We will continue to work for your families to be reunited, for the visas to be granted so that you can be together on special occasions with your families. I will not stop until the contributions of Sikh Canadians are fully honoured by this country.”
What made the biggest headline was not the spectacular music or the political canvassing, but the climactic handshake between Ignatieff and Layton backstage at the event. “Jack,” shouted Ignatieff.
According to the latest daily tracking poll, the Conservatives maintain a strong 14-point lead over the Liberals. But the Grits and New Democrats are in a dead heat over second place; the Liberals have 25 percent support and the NDP is holding steady at 23 percent.