Peter Mansbridge: Joining us here at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, the man who really set this whole election in motion, NDP Leader Jack Layton. He'll be taking questions directly from our viewers, but before we begin, some words about how we selected the questioners. We asked viewers to let us know what they'd like to ask the political leaders, and most of our questioners were selected from that group, but we also asked a research firm to provide us with a representative group of Canadians. We also used that pool. Jack Layton does not know what he'll be asked. So let's get going with the first question from right here in the room here in Halifax. Go ahead.
Heidi Verheul: Hi.Good evening, Mr. Mansbridge and Mr. Layton. My name is Heidi Verheul, and I live and work here in Halifax. In the shadow of the recent suicide attack on a Canadian convoy in Afghanistan, I am deeply concerned about the lack of debate around Canada's involvement in Afghanistan. This past summer, Gen. Rick Hillier described the forces that oppose the NATO mission in Afghanistan as detestable murderers and scumbags. Many people who work for social justice and human rights were appalled by your endorsement of these remarks, because traditionally, the NDP has advocated for an independent foreign policy based on international law and human rights. So Mr. Layton, what is your position on the Canadian role in Afghanistan?
Jack Layton: Well, thank you for the question, and there's no question that the general's remarks at the time were disconcerting. My comment was to say that they were understandable in the emotion of the moment, which, of course, was right after the attack on the London subway. But I also underlined that it was very important that our service personnel be deployed, as the expression goes, consistent with Canadian values, which has to do with peacekeeping and peace-making and working with international initiatives.
And that's why when it was recently announced that there was a consideration of a larger deployment, we said it's time for Parliament to debate this. Canadians need to know more about this transformation that seems to be underway from the peacekeeping role into something different, and we need to hear from our leaders of our military about what's going on, and Parliament needs to thoroughly discuss it, because otherwise, I think I would share the concern that many Canadians would have. I do want to underline the important role that our Canadian service personnel are playing, and our civilians. The tragic loss of a lead civilian negotiator, someone helping the Afghani people try to put together democracy in a very, very difficult situation, and what a courageous person he was. And of course, that, I think, was very much in the tradition of what Canadians want to see internationally.
Peter Mansbridge: Do you have a followup for that? Well, let me follow it up. You say that you have been concerned about the changing role in Afghanistan, and yet you didn't make that one of the arguments against the past Liberal government. You didn't hold up that government on this point in Afghanistan. It's been almost a year since they decided they were going to go to a larger, more offensive role in southern Afghanistan.
Jack Layton: We supported the peacekeeping mission as it was defined in the House of Commons and in our discussion, but more recently–
Peter Mansbridge: It's been known that it's been changed for almost a year, that it was changing to this more offensive role, more aggressive role, in southern Afghanistan.
Jack Layton: I wouldn't say so. I think it still, in our judgment, still fell within the parameters of what we would define as peacekeeping, peacemaking. But more recently in the fall, when there was talk of a larger force being put together and more Canadians perhaps having to be deployed, that's when we said we really do have to sit down and talk about it. We had been hoping for a more fulsome debate in the fall. It didn't happen. We should do it when we come back after the election.
Peter Mansbridge: Should there be a vote in Parliament about this, and if there was one, would you abide by whatever result? Or is this something that you would hold up a minority Parliament over?
Peter Mansbridge: So there should be a vote on this particular mission once Parliament resumes?
Jack Layton: That to me would be the logical thing to do. Certainly there should be a hearing in front of the standing committee that deals with these matters so all Canadians can find out precisely what's going on, and public opinion can have its expression on this before the vote as well.
Peter Mansbridge: All right. Let's move on to the next questioner coming from outside Halifax. Here it is.
Donata Cianci (Owen Sound): My name is Donata Cianci, Mr. Layton, I'm wondering why you joined in bringing down the government sooner than you had to, why you gave up your power to make a difference for Canadians. Seems to me no matter the outcome of the election, you've lost your leverage. So my question is, why did you make that decision?
Peter Mansbridge: All right, Mr. Cianci asking that question from Owen Sound.
Jack Layton: Well, thanks for the question. You know, Peter, ours is the party that tried to make this Parliament work. You may recall last spring the House was about to collapse. Mr. Harper had withdrawn his support for the budget that had the big corporate tax cut in it. Mr. Harper liked that; Mr. Martin proposed it; we felt it was the wrong priority. And we suggested that if that budget could be improved to focus on the needs of Canadians, working families, people who need transit or education or affordable housing, then if that budget was changed, we would vote for it. As a result of that, the budget carried, and we had some extra time to work on key issues, including passing the legislation for equality, by the way, which was very important as well, and moving forward on proportional representation with an important report through the House–
Peter Mansbridge: Okay, but then it moves to the fall and you made the decision to go ahead and defeat them.
Jack Layton: Well, not exactly. Here's what we offered to Mr. Martin – and this is where the disappointment came in. He had already announced this would be a very short minority Parliament. He said, "There will be an election 30 days after the Gomery report," so sometime in the winter.
And I don't know why he made that decision, but he did. And so in the fall, we said, look, we're prepared to try again. Here's a list of key issues, Mr. Martin. If you're willing to work on some of these with us, then we can carry the Parliament on further and get some more results, for example, protecting medicare and making sure that it stays public, taking some tough action on pollution, which he had been refusing to do up until then, and a number of other measures. We made it public. He came back and said, no, he wasn't willing, and that, I think, was very unfortunate. That led to a situation where there just wasn't the support in the House to continue. We tried to actually have the election take place after the holidays, as you might recall. We had all three opposition party leaders compromising on that, but again, Mr. Martin… I think the Liberals just became a little bit too comfortable, a little bit arrogant about who they were and the kind of power they had, and–
Peter Mansbridge: But they did try to make a deal with you on health care. It just wasn't a deal that was agreeable to you, and one has to wonder if you couldn't make a deal with a Liberal minority government on health care, what makes you think you could make a deal with a Conservative minority government on health care if, in fact, that's what happens?
Jack Layton: Well, I'm working very hard to try and prevent a Conservative government; I'm running candidates all across the country for the NDP. And increasingly, people are turning to us, because they certainly–
Peter Mansbridge: No, but the question, though, I mean, today you listed off a lot of things today about what the NDP would do, what it would have to protect if it was in a situation with the Conservative minority government or a Conservative majority even. The question is pretty straightforward. If you couldn't get a deal with the Liberals on health care in minority situation, how could you if it's a Conservative minority?
Jack Layton: Well, first, the Liberals decided that they didn't want to protect public health care, Peter. We laid out a very clear strategy for how that could be done and they simply turned us down flat. And of course, the privatization and for-profit aspect of our health-care system has grown under the Liberals. They have refused to put a stop to it. Now, we set out what we'll do in that Parliament for people after the election. We're going to use every technique we can to protect public health care. That's fundamental. We're going to do everything we can to protect equality rights that have been secured. We don't want to roll that clock back. We're going to do everything that we can to make sure our international commitment on environment is honoured and respected and delivered. Mr. Martin failed with emissions up 24 per cent; Mr. Harper wants to tear up Kyoto. We're going to be there to ensure that Canada's commitments are–
Peter Mansbridge: So on health care, you really don't see any difference between either of the parties if they were in a minority situation?
Jack Layton: Don't take my word for it. That's what Ralph Klein said.
Peter Mansbridge: Well, I want your word for it.
Jack Layton: He said that Jack Layton and the NDP were the only ones being authentic and straightforward and standing up for public health care.
Peter Mansbridge: All right, let's move on to our next question, which is coming from Milton, Ontario.
Paul Wild (Milton, Ontario): Hello, my name is Paul Wild. In previous elections, I've always voted for the Liberal Party, but this time, I'm considering a vote for the NDP. In my riding, however, the chances of an NDP victory seem extremely slim, and I feel that a vote for NDP may be a wasted vote. Mr. Layton, how can you convince me that in this situation, a vote for the NDP is the right thing to do?
Peter Mansbridge: All right. Gentleman thinking about strategic voting. What's your answer to him? Why is it worthwhile voting for the NDP in a riding that at least he doesn't think there's a chance?
Jack Layton: There's only one way to get what you desire and what you hope for in politics, and that's to vote for it. I guess I just take this optimistic view about the future that if you try to shape it in a positive sense, if you try to have your voice added to those right across the country that have a certain vision of what we can do together, then at least it becomes a possibility, and we're seeing right across the country many people saying, you know, "We had hopes for the Liberal Party right throughout the '90s – they've been there 12 years – and those hopes just don't seem to have been realized.
We were promised things for many years – daycare, environment, you name it – and it never really happened, and of course, lately, we've been disappointed by the campaign, by the words, by the ads, et cetera, and, of course, the scandal business." And they're saying, "Where do we go? We don't agree with Stephen Harper. We don't believe that simply cutting taxes on every issue is going to solve every problem, and it could actually hobble us in terms of building what we want to build, like long-term care for seniors." So–
Peter Mansbridge: But you know his question, and you know it as well. There are ridings in this country where you're not going to be in play, just like there are ridings that other parties aren't going to be in play in different parts of the country, and he thinks that's one of them. I don't know that particular riding, but he thinks that's one of them. You know there are ridings where you're not in play. What do you say to somebody who says, "Look, you know, I really feel like I like your program, but I'm going to be wasting my vote there and I don't want," – say in his case – "I don't want the Conservatives to win?
Jack Layton: First, there's only one way a riding comes into play, and that's if people decide they're going to support us, and I'm very serious about that.
Peter Mansbridge: Well, if you were serious about that, you would campaign in every riding in the country, even in 55, 56 days, and you choose which ones you're going to, based on which ones you have the best opportunity of making a significant move. That's what he's talking about too, though, isn't he?
Jack Layton: Well, actually, Peter, I'm going to Quebec City tomorrow. I think you might have even observed that maybe that's not a riding where we should be going following your–
Peter Mansbridge: No, I didn't say that. I was saying it's an interesting time if things are changing–
Jack Layton: Well, that's the point, you see! Things are changing.
Peter Mansbridge: If things are changing.
Jack Layton: Well, we think it's time to change politics. We don't have to accept the–
Peter Mansbridge: No, but you must think you have a chance in Quebec City. I mean, let's not underestimate what he's saying. He's really saying, "Look, you don't have a chance in this riding. I feel for what you're saying, but I don't want the Conservatives to win." That seems to be what he's saying.
Jack Layton: I'm saying add your voice to the two million who voted for the New Democrats last time. We went from one million to two million, and the result was we got things done in Parliament. We actually changed the direction of the country with respect to its budget with those two million votes. Add your vote, and you build that sense of momentum, that sense of strength. You become part of a change that's very, very positive. You don't have to vote for something – what was it that student questioners asked me yesterday, "Shouldn't we be choosing between the lesser of two evils?" I said you don't have to vote for evils. You can vote for something that's positive that you believe in. In fact, that's the only way that you ever get it.
Peter Mansbridge: You don't believe anyone is evil in this campaign?
Jack Layton: I certainly don't. I was quoting someone else. (Laughter)
Peter Mansbridge: You could have told her no one's evil, though. Let's move on to Ottawa where the next questioner is.
Barbara Stephens (Ottawa): My name is Barbara Stephens and I'm in Ottawa. I'm originally from Toronto. It was at my home church in Rexdale where the shooting at a funeral took place, the church where I had my son christened. My husband and I have considered moving back to Toronto, however we're concerned about the violence. We're concerned that our son may be the victim of a stray bullet or that he may have to attend school with gang members. What do you intend to do about the violence in Toronto?
Peter Mansbridge: All right, specific solutions for that.Jack Layton: Well first, let me say I had a chance to go and meet with some of the families
in Rexdale who experienced that horrific circumstance, and I talked to the young people and their parents, and what they said was, "We feel excluded; we feel shut out. Our young people are trying to make a go of it, but the poverty, the lack of support, the lack of encouragement is a real problem."
And they said if only we could have a little help to give young people that alternative path, then these predators who come in from gangs and pick off people who are vulnerable wouldn't have a success. So we responded to that and to people from the youth cabinet in Toronto, including some black youth leadership.
And we said let's create a $100-million fund every year for youth at risk so there are those positive alternatives. My dad used to work with young people in our town, and when you have that alternative that's positive. Then it gives young people that capacity to stay away from what is otherwise offered to them in a context of despair. But on the other hand, of course, while we're getting, as we say, tougher on the causes of crime, on poverty and supporting neighbourhoods that need it, we also have to be very tough on those who carry guns, because carrying a pistol on a downtown street anywhere in Canada means that you're already in a very problematic area. We want to see tough–
Peter Mansbridge: "Getting tough" means what?
Jack Layton: Well, we think it's time for minimum sentences on gun crimes, and for importing guns. Imagine somebody bringing guns across the border that then end up in the hands of young people. We should have very tough sentences on somebody who would do such a thing, and also the sale of guns over the internet is becoming increasingly possible and happening. So we want to stop that. Plus, we feel reverse onus, if you've committed a crime or been carrying a gun and you're being charged, you should have to show why you shouldn't be kept locked up at that moment in time, because there is that sense of it becoming a revolving door.
Peter Mansbridge: All right, next questioner is right here in the room.
Clarke McKenzie Good evening, Mr. Layton. My name is Clarke McKenzie. I'm a retired health-care social worker, and I'm also a non-committed swing voter who is considering voting NDP next week. However, the NDP health-care platform relating to the non-funding of private health-care programs is a problem to me. My concern about the NDP policy arises from the personal belief that better Canadian health-care programs could be designed by integrating the positive aspects offered by both public and private health-care programs. Also, it seems that private health care is as much a reality in present-day Canada as is gay marriage. My question is, please explain why the NDP platform denies Canadians the option of access to private health-care services.
Peter Mansbridge: OK.
Jack Layton: Well, first of all, thank you, Clarke, for the question. And you know, Canadians value their public health-care system. If you talk to them about what constitutes being a Canadian, one of the first things that will be mentioned is our public health-care system, the idea that we all look after one another if one of us is sick. We do it through our taxes, and we pay for that service.
Now, that's been – that medicare system has been in place for a long time, and it's worked very, very well, except the funding was withdrawn in a big way in the mid-'90s by Mr. Martin and in the austerity period, and the result was that you began to see a reduction of trained professionals. We don't have anywhere near the nurses that are needed now. That causes waiting times. That means you can't get the care you need. We saw a cutback in beds in hospitals. We saw a cutback in all kinds of areas. And at the same time, we have an aging population. So what do we propose? We say we don't have to begin to dismantle what we love about this country, our medicare system, which is public. What we can do is tackle the underlying problem. So let's train a lot more nurses and doctors. Let's take people who are in hospital beds who really need long-term care and that's what they're looking for but they can't find it. I was here, in fact, with a woman who was looking – she had to quit her job as a teacher in her 50s to look after her mom because they couldn't find a long-term space for her. She's 93. And I know a lot of viewers who are probably in exactly that situation. So we're saying 40,000 new long-term care spaces plus home care–
Peter Mansbridge: I don't want to interrupt you, but he asked a pretty specific question on the melding of what's good about the private system that's available out there and the current public system.
Jack Layton: Well, what you often find that needs to be done, sometimes there's some very good innovations that have emerged. Let's make them part of the public system. This is what, for example, Gary Doer did in Manitoba. He took a private clinic, worked with the doctors there, made it part of the public system fully, so that it's now a non-profit. It's a joint replacement and physiotherapy operation, and they've reduced costs–
Peter Mansbridge: Does that mean privatizing it?
Jack Layton: No, he reversed the privatization.
Peter Mansbridge: I'm sorry, exactly. Nationalize it.
Jack Layton: Well, I don't think he used that word. But here's what happened. Instead of 15 or 20 per cent of the dollars having to go to the dividends, the stockholders, they were able to go to the nurses and the frontline caregivers. And that's our worry. You see, if billions of our health dollars start going to health-care companies, they've got to take 15 or 20 per cent off to go to serve the profits of their businesses, and they'll buy and sell the businesses and they'll have debt against the businesses that has to be serviced and investors.
Peter Mansbridge: So is this something you'd do, you'd advocate–
Jack Layton: We think public dollars shouldn't be spent on that. Of course, it may still happen. In Europe you see that, but they don't have the same extent of public spending in the private system. I just don't think that public dollars that we pay to look after each other should go to somebody's dividends. They should go to a nurse. They should go to a health-care worker, the person who cleans the hospital, somebody who's actually providing the care for us, and then let's improve the care. Let's be smart about it. Let's provide the home care and long-term care so that some of the beds can be vacated and the waiting list be shortened.
Peter Mansbridge: OK, thank you. Let's move on then. Next question is coming from Winnipeg. Here it is.
Sean Ledwich (Winnipeg): Mr. Layton, my name is Sean Ledwich, and here's my question. The Gomery Commission states that Paul Martin should be "exonerated from any wrongdoing for carelessness or misconduct," and no Liberal candidate is implicated in the sponsorship scandal. In regards to the NDP allegation of an income trust leak, information detailed on the CBC website strongly supports that market speculation is the culprit rather than any leak. Given these facts, how do you justify the constant repetition of the word "corruption" in reference to your Liberal opponents, and do you feel that false accusations like that harm our democratic process?
Jack Layton: Oh, I think what's – I think our democratic process has been harmed, and I think it's by the loss of confidence that has resulted from the whole scandal itself, people watching what Justice Gomery called a kind of an organized process of funnelling money to try and buy Quebecers' support for Canada. That was an insult to Quebecers, and we've seen the reaction. It's driven up the support for those who might not even want to stay in Canada. That's one tragic outcome. And the second is that people now think that, oh, I guess that's what politics is all about, getting money to flow through to your friends, and I know a lot of people who are turning their back on politics completely. And I think it's tragic.
Peter Mansbridge: But his question is once again, it's very direct. He says that you and the other political opponents of the Liberals are suggesting that Paul Martin and his government are corrupt. Now, is there any evidence that they are corrupt, that this government that's currently seeking re-election is corrupt?
Jack Layton: Well, I think what you've seen is scandalous behaviour, Peter, and I think everybody's reacted to that. The income trust was mentioned. Now, I would have thought that the finance minister would have called in the RCMP given what happened to the – a lot of people made millions and a lot of people lost millions from their savings at that moment. Something went wrong clearly, but I would have thought the minister of finance would have asked them in or the prime minister asked in the RCMP–
Peter Mansbridge: You can debate how that works–
Jack Layton: Peter, I've got to finish this one thought. The RCMP is doing the investigation. They don't act on the basis of politics. They really don't, and I think that Mr. Martin suggesting that is not right.
Peter Mansbridge: But that's not what he's saying. Everybody understands an investigation. It will conclude one way or another, but at the moment, he feels that you and the other political opponents of the Liberals are calling them corrupt, in other words, the Martin Liberals, and there's no evidence for it. Either there is evidence or there isn't evidence that they're corrupt. Scandalous is one way of looking at it. Corruption is quite different. Are they corrupt? Is there any evidence they've been corrupt?
Jack Layton: Well, all I know is that there are various charges and processes under way flowing from Justice Gomery. Canadians will have to draw their own conclusion about that. It certainly, I think, is something that concerns a lot of Canadians and they should be rightly concerned.
Peter Mansbridge: All right, question here in the room.
Jennifer Power (Orangedale, Nova Scotia): Good evening, Mr. Layton. Welcome to Nova Scotia.
Jack Layton: Thank you.
Jennifer Power: My name is Jennifer Power, and I'm here tonight from Orangedale, Cape Breton Island. I was raised in a small fishing community on the east coast of Newfoundland, and now I've made a choice to raise my young family in rural Cape Breton. I see that you've been most active on issues that are very relevant to cities, and I can see our people, our jobs, our services increasingly migrating to those urban centres. My concern is that Canadians have less and less ability to choose to live in the country, and my question for you is, what will you do to ensure that the choice to live in a rural area is a viable one for Canadians now and in the future?
Jack Layton: Well, thanks very much for the question. I grew up in a town of about 3,000 people, and played football with the farm boys, and they were great on the front line because shucking bales of hay gives you good muscles, and it's true, there is something about the small town community that is very, very exciting. In fact, even big cities, if you break them down, many times there are those local communities and that's really where that energy is found.
And we do need to support our rural communities. You know, when I had the opportunity to be president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, I said we can't just talk about the big cities. We've got to get the small communities because so many Canadians are part of them, and that's why when we pushed for changes in the budget, we tried to make sure that funds were available for small communities.
One of the big issues that you're facing in small towns is you can't drink the water oftentimes. Boil-water orders in Canada! I mean, a thousand boil-water orders across this country, and they're not in the big cities. They're in the small communities. Well, this tells you something about how we're polluting our natural environment. That's got to stop. Tougher laws on the environment. But also, we've got to help these small communities get their water systems sorted out, and they can't afford it. They're too small.
So we have a plan and a proposal for infrastructure that would assist there, but I also think economic development there is important. A lot of young people, they leave to get their education, perhaps, and they can never come back home. The debt they have on their shoulders is too heavy. They've got to get one, two, three jobs sometimes just to pay it off, and those jobs are being found in the cities. So I think rural economic development focusing on forestry, fisheries, farming – as Peter Stoffer, our wonderful member of Parliament always says – those primary industries that are so key, we've got to support them, and we can't just throw them out to the ravages of, quote, unquote, free market economics. We need to have a strategy and that's what we're supporting.
Jennifer Power: I'd like to follow up on that point about water. It's interesting because the community where I live is under a boil water order and has been since I moved there 12 years ago, and we have been working very hard with various levels of government to try to solve that problem. What we run into is that we're looking at a $1-million solution to our problem, not a lot of money, but right now, there are 50 families living in Orangedale. So for our politicians to take that to the federal government to try to access some of this infrastructure money, it's hard to make that money. Is that, you know, how many dollars per person living in that town, is it really worth it? How would you argue that, you know, when you have the vast majority of people in Parliament who are representing cities?
Peter Mansbridge: OK, quick answer.
Jack Layton: Well, I think you simply have to have a portion of that funding dedicated to the small communities. It needs to be disproportionately for the small communities because they don't have the financial capacity themselves and that's how we would approach it.
Jennifer Power: Thanks very much.
Peter Mansbridge: Thank you. Question coming now from Richmond Hill, Ontario.
Tola Oyekanmi (Richmond Hill): My name is Tola Oyekanmi. Many highly skilled and educated immigrants spend all they have to get here in the hopes they can continue their work here. Many experience barriers, including questions about their work experience and qualifications. There doesn't seem to be a system in place to help new immigrants get really established. My question is, what will your party do to help new immigrants better settle in Canada?
Jack Layton: This is a question that takes us right to the heart of how we're building this country and where we're failing people who are arriving here, Peter, because first of all, imagine if you're a family coming to Canada. Canada tells you, we want your professional credentials; we give you points on your immigration form for the professional training. We tell you we want your experience. We actually give you points, and you qualify to come here because of your experience, and then you arrive, and sure and lo and behold, you find out there is a demand for an accountant, a doctor, a nurse, whatever, but not for you, and the door's closed, and you've got to feed your family, so you drive a taxi or you work in a restaurant. You're working many, many hours and never get to take those courses.
We see the solution to unfold this way. Let's tell the people the truth from the outset. Let's make sure they know exactly where they're going to fit and what they have to do to fit and let's start that fitting process before they even come. We have the internet. There are some colleges that have started out programs in the country of origin so the certification process can start, and let's also double check all this certification. I've talked to so many who feel that the training they have is actually of – it's from the same textbooks, it's from professors of similar quality, and you've got to wonder sometimes, do our professional associations close the door too tightly to people coming from elsewhere? I'm convinced they do, and I also think that we're wasting human talent and we're creating a lot of misery for those families who came here with great hopes but are unable to realize them for their children.
Peter Mansbridge: Next question is here in the room.
Schuyler Smith (Ottawa): Hi, Mr. Layton, Mr. Mansbridge. My name is Schuyler Smith. I'm a recent graduate living in Ottawa right now. My question is relating to how you've been running your campaign. It seems to me watching the debates and listening to the ads that the Liberals are focusing on the Conservatives and vice versa making it almost seem as if it's a two-person race. I'm just wondering how exactly in the last few days you're going to present yourself as a relevant third choice, one which is not scared to stand up to the other parties.
Jack Layton: Well, thank you for the question, and it's true. There is often this tendency to think that it's a two-horse race, and certainly the prime minister likes to say that quite often, that you have only two choices. I guess he hasn't looked at the ballot lately. People have the opportunity, and when you go to vote, you're going to see a New Democratic Party candidate on every single ballot right across this country, and you can make that choice.
You don't have to choose the Liberals who, let's face it, they need to go and clean themselves up. They need to get their act together. We're not quite sure what they stand on and I'm not sure they know right now. So while they're doing that work, they're in the repair shop as it were, why not support the New Democrats to make sure that the issues that you care about are actually being brought forward, the issues as I always put it of working families.
Peter Mansbridge: This is the "lend us your vote" strategy that you've started using.
Jack Layton: You could call it "lend". You could say, "Try it; you'll like it."
Peter Mansbridge: Using that word "lend," was there a debate within your inner group about that? I mean, that's a bit of a gamble. "Lend us your vote"? What, are they supposed to give it back after one election? I mean….
Jack Layton: Well, look, we're just simply saying to people who may not have had the opportunity to vote for the NDP before, and who have voted, perhaps, for the Liberals in the past, they were waiting for certain kinds of things to happen with the Liberals, it didn't happen.
Why not turn to a party that has shown we can deliver the results? We did that in the last Parliament. We really accomplished some very positive things there, and that is running on a balanced budget approach, very terrific group of candidates, and is going to stand up for the things you care about, keeping your health-care system public, keeping us out of a George Bush foreign policy, making sure that we stick with Kyoto and that we don't abandon our obligations, making sure we don't roll back the clock on equality. These are very important to a lot of Canadians, and the Liberals are going to be busy sorting themselves out. Why not have a strong effective team in the House of Commons speaking for you. Those are the New Democrats. We've shown we can do it with a relatively small caucus. With a lot more New Democrats, we can do a lot better and deliver more results.
Peter Mansbridge: OK, we've got to take – and our next question is right here in Halifax. Go ahead.
Matt Connor: (Cole Harbour, N.S.): My name is Matt Connor. I'm from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, and I'm a fourth-year university student at Mount Allison University. My question, Mr. Layton, is this: We're in our second election in less than two years. In the last Parliament, your party held the balance of power. And you used that power to support the government numerous times and then you used it to defeat them. If in the next Parliament your party again holds the balance of power, what are the conditions under which you would support a government and would you consider defeating another government?
Jack Layton: Well, first of all, we're running candidates right across the country, and we're asking Canadians to support New Democrats because it's the best choice. Now, if a sufficient number do so, then there will be an inevitable consequence of that that we're prepared to assume, which is that New Democrats would be the government. On the other hand, Canadians may compose the House of Commons in a different way, and my commitment to Canadians is simply this… our team of New Democrats will work and speak for you and your family in that House of Commons, and I think we showed that that's what we're prepared to do in the last Parliament.
There were a lot of political games being played. You all saw them, tape recorded conversations, people crossing floors. All kinds of things were on the go. Our party… we're here in a sailing museum. I like to say we sailed the long tack. In other words, we stick to where we're headed and we try to keep in mind who sent us there.
This time around, I'm saying we're focusing on the needs of seniors. They have not been talked about enough. We're an aging population and we have no strategy for them. Secondly, young people. We've got to make sure they've got the opportunities by funding post-secondary education and training, including for aboriginal people. And third, we're going to protect that public health-care system. It's a bottom line for us. The NDP invented it many years ago. We're not going to let it be eroded. I've spoken about some of the other bottom lines for us, but we'll go into that Parliament with that agenda, and with our program that we laid out, and we'll try to convince as many other members of Parliament to support it as we can. That's the approach we're going to take. I know you want to know what I would do with one result or another, but I'm going to trust Canadians to make a decision in the election, and I'm going to go to work with our team of New Democrats on behalf of working people.
Peter Mansbridge: OK?
Matt Connor: Can I ask a rebuttal?
Peter Mansbridge: One quick one, go ahead.
Matt Connor: If you are holding the balance of power and you do come to an opportunity where you can defeat the government, will we be in another election in two years' time from now or will you try everything possible to make sure we aren't in another election in two years' time?
Jack Layton: I think what you've seen from New Democrats is we try to make things work. I was very honoured to be able to be a part of pulling the leaders together around making sure the veterans' bill passed. It was going to go through the long, tortuous process. I said let's all get on that project together, and we came back after visiting the Netherlands, because the political games, we were not there for most of what went on, and I want to celebrate what our veterans have done, and I'm glad that bill passed. We're going to try to deliver results day in, day out. We'll try to accomplish a Parliament that's productive for as long as we can.
Peter Mansbridge: All right. The next question, go ahead.
Sally Ravindra (Purcell's Cove, N.S.): My name's Sally Ravindra. I'm a potter. I'm from Purcell's Cove in Halifax. I consider myself a pan-Canadian. My question: specifically what I want to know is what do you propose if, in power, or to the next government in power to help unify this great Canadian federation?
Jack Layton: Thank you for that question, Sally, because it's very close to my heart. I was born in Quebec and grew up in the Montreal area and in a small town outside Montreal, and we have so much to celebrate by having Quebec as part of Canada. It is something precious. And I think more and more Canadians are coming to think that way too. I think much has changed in our country over the years. I haven't heard some of the old attitudes that I once heard as I crossed this country. I think the winning conditions, what I said in the debate was let's create the winning conditions for Canada in Quebec.
And unfortunately, the sponsorship scandal did the opposite. It drove people away, Quebecers. They felt they were being bought and not respected. So let's start with an attitude of respect and a positive approach. Let's also recognize that a lot of Quebecers are what we could call social democrats. They were very much against the invasion of Iraq. They're in favour of equal marriage. They're really strong on environmental initiatives. They've got the best child-care program in the whole country, one we propose should be available to all Canadians. Really progressive people. And the New Democrats, actually, when you look at it, are the federal party that is most in sync with the values of the majority of Quebecers. And we're offering that positive alternative. We think that the way to, as it were, convince Quebecers that they really do want to be part of this wonderful Canada of ours is by being positive and respectful, just like any relationship. That's how you make it work.
Peter Mansbridge: OK. Thank you.
Sally Ravindra: But specifically, how are you going to do that?
Jack Layton: I've suggested we launch on a process of reconciliation which recognizes that there's been problems and starts the discussion. The end point of that discussion should be to have the conditions that are acceptable to Canadians so that the National Assembly of Quebec, in Quebec City, can stand up and vote in favour of signing the Canadian Constitution. Then Quebecers would be fully a part of this wonderful federation of ours.
Peter Mansbridge: OK, better move on. I mean, I understand the frustration of that. We've heard that kind of response for 20, 30 years, to try and find that set of conditions, and yet nobody seems to be able to find it where everybody can agree. I think that's the frustration that a lot of Canadians share.
Jack Layton: It's going to take some hard work, but let's get on with the job.
Peter Mansbridge: Our next question is right here in Halifax. Go ahead.
John Simms (Truro, N.S.): Good evening. My name is John Simms. I'm from Crows Mills, just outside of Truro. I have been an outdoor enthusiast most of my life and I'm involved in some type of hunting or shooting activity since before I can remember. In the late 1990s, in an attempt to reduce gun crime, Paul Martin's Liberal government introduced bill C-68 and the National Gun Registry. This program has gone grossly over budget by almost $2 billion.
Last Thursday night, I watched Paul Martin sitting where you are now trying to justify the cost of this program, admitting that the registry was meant to deal with rifles and shotguns and basically did nothing new to help reduce the illegal use of handguns, as we had already had a mandatory handgun registry in this country since the 1930s. Therefore, my question to you tonight is, given the mismanagement and gross overspending of this program, would you not agree that the registry is extremely overpriced and that it is high time that this waste of tax dollars be dismantled and those funds then be invested into programs that could actually reduce gun crime?
Jack Layton: Well, we certainly agree that it's been mismanaged. In fact, it's not just us. The auditor general has come out with a whole series of recommendations as to ways that it needs to be fundamentally reformed. We support that kind of reform. At the end of the day, what we say is that we need laws to deal with handguns, particularly in cities. We've talked a little bit about that earlier in the program.
If you're simply going to pack a gun into a downtown, to me, you've already crossed the line. It's time that we had laws that made that crystal clear. And if you're going to carry guns across a border, then you've crossed the line, and we've got to make that crystal clear. We also have to respond to our border guards, who are looking for the capacity to be armed when the RCMP isn't able to be there, and, in fact, the RCMP is not sufficiently staffed and should be to do this kind of work. So fix it, reform it, and then get the laws where they really need it.
Peter Mansbridge: What about the basic concept of the gun registry? Should it stay or no?
Jack Layton: Look, our view is that if it could be done in a fashion that makes any kind of sense and we think that should be you can find, it can serve a purpose for police agencies.
John Simms: Mr. Layton, you just spoke a moment ago, you gave – I lost count – three or four different examples of gun crime, none of which could relate in any way to the gun registry.
Jack Layton: Well, I know the police use it a lot. They access the gun registry a great deal in their daily work across the country, and that's something we should all be considering as well.
John Simms: Admittedly, they do, but how could that actually be used in one of those examples you just gave to reduce violent handgun crime in urban areas, like you are so concerned about?
Jack Layton: I don't believe that the registry deals with that aspect. That's why we need laws to deal with that aspect as well, as well as getting to the underlying causes. We've talked a lot about an issue that hasn't been raised enough, we've tried to raise it, is the whole issue of violence against women across this country. That's one that requires some serious attention. We have numerous inquests that have recommended many policies and laws that could be preventing violence against women and, of course, those recommendations just sit there. Nobody's responding. We're putting a priority on that one as well.
Peter Mansbridge: All right. Next question right here.
Ryan McMutt (Halifax): Thank you, Mr. Layton. My name is Ryan McNutt. I'm a student here in Halifax. And you've mentioned young people a couple of times throughout our discussion today, so I'd like to ask you about the issue directly. I voted in the last two federal elections, but most of my fellow young people don't. Most young people seem to think politicians are crooks, liars, and don't get anything done. After the last couple of years and another campaign of talking points and attack ads, I'm not sure I blame them, sometimes. What can you and the NDP do to allow young people to trust and believe in government?
Jack Layton: Great question. And we talked earlier about how the whole sponsorship scandal has once again left a lot of people with that impression about politics and politicians. That may be the lasting… the most difficult lasting consequence, that it actually reduces people's faith in their own democratic system, something our veterans went and fought for.
And I think that's a tragedy. What do we do about it? Several things. First of all, in our own party, I've really encouraged the involvement of young people. We've gone from just a couple of youth clubs and organizations in our party to having 60 of them right across the country. We've got a lot of young candidates who are running in the election, and I'm very, very excited about that. We also have a lot of women running, and I think that's extremely important. Women have been dramatically underrepresented in Parliament. We're one of the worst parliaments as far as women, including young women. We have Alexis MacDonald here, running. She turned a lot of heads with the way she was able to take on Peter MacKay the other night in a debate.
Young people have things to say, and they need to be encouraged by political parties, and we're doing that. In addition, proportional representation is very important, voting reform, because right now, a lot of people go out to vote, including a lot of young people who have their ideals and what they want to pursue. They cast their vote and it's not reflected in the result. We end up with a party that gets elected time after time even though it doesn't have a majority of Canadians supporting it, but they get 100 per cent of the power. That's not right. So proportional representation is very important for us as a way of getting our democracy back on track, as well as the other ethical reforms that I asked Ed Broadbent to lay out. We're looking forward to bringing those into the Parliament for early and rapid adoption. Surely we can get all parties agreeing that we've got to clean up what's been going on around lobbyists, around financing of campaigns and all of those sorts of issues, freedom of information.
Peter Mansbridge: For the past hour, it's been "Your Turn" with NDP Leader Jack Layton. The last few minutes, though, are actually going to be my turn. You know, you've talked throughout this as if the best choice for prime minister would be you, and that's… nobody would be surprised that that would be your choice. Who would be the worst choice?
Jack Layton: Canadians will have their opinions on that. I'm simply asking people to make a very positive choice, Peter. I'm hearing that people are unhappy with Paul Martin, and I'm also hearing that they don't agree with Stephen Harper. And the election is boiling down to this. You have the third choice, a positive choice. You don't have to vote for something that's worse or against something that's worse. You can vote for where you'd like the country to go.
Peter Mansbridge: But you clearly want to be in the position to keep whichever party has the most number of seats in check, and your party issued a press release today saying what your bottom line was on certain conditions that you would not allow to happen in a new House of Commons. That clearly indicates what your real thinking is – is that, you know, you're hoping for a minority parliament where you hold the balance of power, and there are certain issues that are extremely important to you, and I guess it refers to the whole issue of honesty and openness, which you've challenged politicians of all stripes to be up front with. So it's really your turn to be up front on that front now. Here we are, just a couple of days away from the election, and the bottom line is what will Jack Layton support and what will he not support, with whichever government is picked next week? If it's a Conservative–
Jack Layton: Whichever choice it turns out…
Peter Mansbridge: Whichever choice.
>Jack Layton: I wouldn't want to rule out the possibility of the New Democrats having a sufficient number to play that role.
Peter Mansbridge: But unlikely.
Jack Layton: In fact, I'm asking for that– That may be your opinion.
Peter Mansbridge: No, but it's got to be your opinion too. You wouldn't have put out that press release today.
Jack Layton: Peter, not at all. I've said here's what we'll do in the Parliament, whatever role we have. We will not allow our public health-care system to be privatized. We will not get onboard to George Bush's agenda for foreign affairs. We will respect Kyoto and make sure that we achieve it, unlike both of the other parties. We will ensure that equality that has been provided for in Canada is respected and maintained. Whatever the role…
Peter Mansbridge: So if any of those issues came down in a minority government that wasn't an NDP government, if any of those issues was put forward, you would defeat the government on the matter of principle on any of those issues, no matter what time in the Parliament that is.
Jack Layton: I'm saying we'll do absolutely everything we can to make sure to those things are protected. That's an absolute fundamental for us, and there are a lot of people who are thinking about what's going to happen on Monday, and wondering who's going to speak up on those issues and really stand up for us? Those are achievements that Canadians have brought into being over the last number of years. How are we going to ensure ourselves that they happen? How are we going to ensure that seniors are looked after, that young people are looked after? Who's going to speak for us, for the working families in that new House?
Peter Mansbridge: When the last Parliament started, you said Canadians want this Parliament to work. We're going to give it some time to make it work. If it's a minority Parliament and you're not the leading party, do you say the same thing?
Jack Layton: Well….
Peter Mansbridge: Because you're sounding much tougher here now, in terms of the conditions.
Jack Layton: Peter, I'm going to wait and see what happens on Monday before… but I will simply say this… we worked in the last Parliament to get results. We were the one party that consistently and for the longest stretch tried to make that divided House come together around some common goals, and I'm going to do the same thing in the next Parliament.
Peter Mansbridge: We thank you for your time. I know the viewers have enjoyed questioning you and hearing your answers, as we have with all the candidates. We wish you luck and we thank you.
Jack Layton: Thank you, Peter.
Peter Mansbridge: The last of these "Your Turns" with the leaders happens on Thursday. Stephen Harper will be our guest in Toronto. We'd like to thank everyone who came out tonight, our questioners, Jack Layton, our colleagues from the CBC in Halifax and Moncton, and our hosts here at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.
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