NDP slams Liberal attack on Layton's smile

The New Democratic Party is accusing a Liberal cabinet minister of being culturally insensitive and disrespectful for saying Jack Layton has a "boiled dog's head smile" – a term that is apparently an English translation of a Chinese insult.

A Liberal cabinet minister's comment that Jack Layton has a "boiled dog's head smile" is culturally insensitive and disrespectful to the NDP leader, party representatives say.

The comment is an English translation of a Chinese insult.

But Industry Minister David Emerson has said he used the phrase as a joke.

The comment first appeared in a blog written by Jamie Elmhirst, the federal Liberals' B.C. president.

"How did Minister Emerson describe his style at our convention dinner?" Elmhirst wrote in the Dec. 5 blog entry. "Oh yes, he said that Jack Layton had a 'boiled dog's head smile.' That would have made even me wince if I hadn't have been laughing so hard."

Mary-Woo Sims, the Lower Mainland NDP candidate who once headed the now-defunct B.C. Human Rights Commission, said joke or no joke, the Liberals are being culturally insensitive.

She said it is insulting to compare someone to a dog in Chinese culture, and that politicians should not lower the debate to that level.

"People may not understand – or in the mainstream community they may not understand – the very personal nature and the impact that being compared to a dog has on a person of Chinese background. So it's just not acceptable in this day and age."

Stanley Tsao, an NDP campaign spokesman, told the Canadian Press that the phrase is Cantonese in origin and can be taken a number of ways depending on the context.

He said the remark showed "arrogance and disrespect," especially in light of comments about Layton and his wife Olivia Chow that appeared in another Liberal's blog last week.

A senior Ontario Liberal campaign official, Mike Klander, resigned earlier this week after comparing Chow to a chow chow dog. The longtime Toronto municipal politician is running as the NDP's federal candidate in the Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina.

Emerson, who is running for re-election in Vancouver Kingsway, said he got the "boiled dog's head" term from his Hong Kong-born wife and wasn't trying to be disrespectful.

"It was in reference to his constant chattering away with this great big grin on his face, pasted on, kind of an overextended grin," Emerson told the Canadian Press.

"It's a Cantonese expression which I use on myself and my wife uses on me all the time when I have to pose for pictures."

Emerson said he made the remark in a speech at a dinner during the B.C. federal Liberals' convention the weekend before the election call.

"I was referring to constantly seeing Jack Layton looking like a boiled dog's head, talking about some of these shallow, ideologically driven policies of the NDP.

"She's got tons of them," he said of his wife's colourful phrases. "We certainly use it in our family and my wife says it's commonly used in the Cantonese community. It certainly wasn't meant as disrespectful."

On Thursay, Layton dismissed Emerson's comments as a "descent into silliness" and said, "It doesn't bother me."

But he lashed out against the Liberal blog that compared his wife to a dog.

He said it wasn't long ago, when Europe controlled portions of China, that there were signs in parks that read: "No dogs or Chinese allowed."

"An executive vice-president of the Liberal party has compared a woman city councillor and candidate with that cultural heritage to a dog. What does this tell us about the Liberal party?" Layton asked. "It reminds us that insults flow from arrogance. There is far too much of this in today's Liberal party.

"I certainly hope that racial slurs will come to an end in this campaign. I frankly never expected that we would face such things."