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Michael Byers, the federal NDP candidate for Vancouver Centre, made a remark Thursday that deviated from the party's stand on oilsands development. (CBC)

An NDP candidate found himself in a sticky situation Thursday after answering a benign question from a journalism class about what animal he would be.

Michael Byers, an expert in international law and politics, was debating three of his rivals in the riding of Vancouver Centre as part of an exercise in front of a University of British Columbia journalism class.

When one of the students asked what animal each candidate saw themselves as, veteran Liberal MP Hedy Fry compared herself to a lion, Conservative Lorne Mayencourt chose a golden Labrador and Green party deputy leader Adriane Carr selected a wild salmon.

Byers responded by saying he would be a polar bear, but then elaborated on how the species is threatened by climate change.

"We need to go after the big polluters," Byers continued. "We need to shut the tarsands down."

The remark departs from the New Democrats' stance that the party, if elected, would cut off subsidies to the oil and gas industry and halt expansion in Alberta's oilsands — but not close them.

Byers later explained that he meant that removing subsidies to the oil industry would lead to its eradication.

"I'm not suggesting that we would actually have to go and padlock the plants," he added.

Asked later about Byers's comments, NDP Leader Jack Layton said: "He may have been speaking metaphorically. I'm not sure. I haven't discussed it with him."

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion called the remark a "foolish declaration" and called for a sustainable development approach.