The Tories have suspended their communications director after he sent an email to CTV News saying an outspoken father of a fallen Canadian soldier was a Liberal supporter.

Earlier in the day, slain soldier Cpl. Paul Davis' father, Jim Davis, told CTV's Canada AM he was shocked Wednesday by comments made by Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.

Harper had said Canada's military commitment in Afghanistan will end in 2011 as scheduled.

After the program, Ryan Sparrow, the Tory's director of communications, emailed CTV News saying Davis was a supporter of Liberal MP Michael Ignatieff

Harper, addressing a crowd in St.-Eustache, Que., Thursday afternoon, said Sparrow had "been suspended from the campaign (and) he has apologized to the individual in question."

He said the email was "inappropriate" as it questioned "the motivation of a father of a deceased Canadian soldier."

Harper added that he wants to "make it clear that I have set a tone, and I've set an expectation for this campaign and as leader I'm going to make sure that is followed all the way to victory," said Harper.

Davis, whose son died when his light armoured vehicle rolled over during a patrol in Kandahar in March 2006, told Mike Duffy Live on Thursday that he had accepted Sparrow's apology and didn't agree with the suspension.

"That suspension upsets me," Davis said. "We all learn from our mistakes and we become better people because of that. The last thing that I would want is somebody to have hardship over my son's death. That's not what this is all about, this is not politics.

"Ryan Sparrow made a mistake; we all make mistakes, and he apologized and I forgive him."

But Liberal Leader Stephane Dion was quick to call on Harper to fire Sparrow for his "reprehensible" remarks, saying a suspension did not go far enough.

"Playing politics with a father who is suffering from such a tragic loss is simply unacceptable," Dion said. "Suspending, and not firing Mr. Sparrow outright is a sad attempt to brush this under the rug."

Davis' comments

Earlier Thursday, Davis said it would be ideal to have Canadian soldiers home by 2011 but setting a deadline "undermines the work our soldiers are doing and it undermines the mission."

He said the deadline makes it difficult for Canadian soldiers to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people if they know troops will be gone in two years.

"I would never want to see another soldier go in harm's way so I can justify my son's death," Davis told CTV's Canada AM.

"But at the same time if we pull up stakes and come home when we're not ready to -- when the mission is not complete -- if we did that then my son died in vain."

Davis, a resident of Bridgewater, N.S., has worked for the provincial wing of the federal Liberal party.

In 2006, he criticized the Tories when the party considered banning media coverage of the return of Canada's war dead.

Davis also criticized the NDP when they called for an immediate end to the mission in Afghanistan in 2006.

In July 2007, Davis said Dion was the "right man to be prime minister" but he pressed him to support extending Canada's mission in Afghanistan -- which the Liberals did by supporting a motion in Parliament in March 2008.

Harper on Afghanistan

On Thursday, before Sparrow was suspended, Harper said a set pullout date for Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan was necessary to ensure the success of the mission.

Harper, speaking in Montreal, said that without a deadline "the mission will go on forever and we will not be successful."

"That's why we set an end date and why we've laid out a plan between now and then to train the Afghan forces and transform the mission into one that can help at a higher level of governance," said Harper.

He said he understands the mission in Afghanistan is an emotional issue for families of soldiers.

"But look, the military themselves understand that we have got to make sure the Afghans are able to take responsibility for their own security," said Harper.

"We've been there three years already, we've got three more years and we are determined to make this mission successful.

"Making it successful means we achieve an objective within a reasonable period of time."

Although the bulk of the troops will be out by 2011, Harper has said there may some Canadian soldiers who stay in the country as advisers.

Meanwhile, the party has already had to backtrack three times this week over:

  • Opposing the inclusion of Green Leader Elizabeth May in the debates.
  • An ad on its website showing a puffin pooping on Liberal Leader Stephane Dion.
  • The resignation of a Halifax candidate who had a criminal record.

Dion had his own problems with a candidate Thursday and he fired a Quebec City Liberal candidate for controversial comments about natives.

Simon B�dard, 65, made the comments while he was a radio host in 1990. He called for the killing of Mohawks during the 1990 native stand-off in Kanesetake.

With files from The Canadian Press