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Layton: NDP to better vet future candidates

The NDP will take a closer look at potential candidates heading into future elections, leader Jack Layton said to reporters following a town hall-style meeting in Victoria.

Layton made the comment in response to a question about who he would encourage people to vote for in ridings where the NDP is not running a campaign, such as Saanich-Gulf Islands where Julian West dropped out following revelations about a 12-year-old incident.

“Naturally I'm very disappointed with the fact that question even has to be asked,” said Layton. “Certainly we've got some reflection to do about that, but I'm not going to advise voters what to do in these situations. That's going to have to be their decision.”

West withdrew after the September 22 deadline, so his name will still be on the ballot though he nor the party will run a campaign. The incumbent in the riding is Conservative Gary Lunn, with Briony Penn running for the Liberals and Andrew Lewis for the Green Party.

Asked how thoroughly the NDP had vetted candidates, Layton said, “We thought it had been adequate. Evidently not . . . We're reviewing it, no question about that. In this era of Googles and everything else there's obviously new techniques we may be able to employ.”

And what should NDP voters in the riding do? “Obviously people are going to have a very difficult choice,” he said. “We have a lot of NDP supporters in that riding who are looking forward to casting their ballot and they have to decide what to do in the circumstances. I'm not going to make a recommendation. That's something they'll have to grapple with.”

Last week the NDP lost candidates Dana Larsen in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country and Kirk Tousaw in Vancouver-Quadra. Larsen has been replaced by Bill Forst and Tousaw by David Caplan.

Also of note from the event:

* Before Layton arrived, former NDP premier of B.C. Dave Barrett, now 77 years old, received a standing ovation then said a few words. “In the last provincial election in this province, only one Conservative candidate ran,” he said. “There was a fix between the Liberals and the Conservatives in this province and it's going to happen again next. So when you hear the Liberals criticizing the Tories in this province, forget it. They both get their sources of money from the corporations and they're afraid to run separately in this province. Why? Because people in this province know how good a province representing them instead of the corporations is. It really is much better and much healthier.”

When Layton arrived he acknowledged Barrett. “Thank you for coming out.” Barrett stood up to greet him and Layton said, “I'm not going to give you the mic. You'd take over and give a great speech.”

* Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca candidate Jennifer Burgis introduced Layton. She's up against Liberal incumbent Keith Martin in the riding, as well as Conservative Troy DeSouza. In 2006 the NDP candidate came close to knocking off Martin, with DeSouza a distant third. The prominence she was given today suggests the NDP think she has a good shot at winning this time. Victoria MP Denise Savoie, considered a favourite to win again in her riding, had a front row seat, but did not speak.

* After Layton's speech, provincial MLA John Horgan took questions from the several hundred strong crowd, providing some unscripted moments.

“My boy's on another rotation in Afghanistan,” said one woman. She said she's a supporter of the military, but is concerned about the number of soldiers getting killed or maimed. “I want this to stop. My boy's a soldier's soldier, he's dedicated. He lost his best friend, his CO, everybody . . . This is a dead end effort. It's bad and it's going to get worse. I want to know what the NDP will do about this deployment.”

Layton responded: “I've met with too many soldiers coming home. Some from what they've seen, they have post traumatic stress . . . Our party has first of all said, like all Canadians we support the folks who serve . . . What we now need to do is take responsibility for what we're asking them to do.” Two years ago the NDP called for the mission to end, he said. “Canada should be a voice for peace. We shouldn't be seconding the motions of the Bush whitehouse.”

* From a young man: “I'd be likely to sympathize with many of the things you say in regard to global capitalism. I just really don't know that I can trust you. There's no way you'd be able to come into power. There's no way you'd be elected in this system. There's absolutely nothing you can do . . . You're completely reliant on the capitalist structure. You have so many cameras over there . . . You're dependent on the Internet to get your message out. I don't know that I can really trust that you're for the average middle class family . . . Are you really going to do something about this, or are you just paying lipservice?”

Layton: “Some people share your kind of skepticism. I understand that people are skeptical about politics. By the way, I don't apologize for using the internet. We're reaching a lot of people that way and I think it's important to reach and engage people, especially young people.” The NDP has opposed Harper's government on principle on numerous occasions, he said, its members voting for what they believe in rather than political expediency. “I disagree with you when you say we can never win. That's a defeatist attitude. I don't share it and don't let anyone tell you that what Canadians really want for their country can't be made to happen. It can and Canadians can make it happen.”

* Layton on the apology to First Nations: “It was just so powerful . . . But as I said at the time, it's one thing to apologize and that's important. More important is to change.”

* A boy got a turn with the microphone. “My name is Ben," he said. "I'm 11 years old, and I'm wondering if the NDP's in favour of letting children vote.”

Layton: “We're a party that advocates lowering the voting age. So far we were only going down to 16, but we might revise that. We do believe younger people deserve to be involved in the political process.”

* Layton responded to a question on proportional representation: “We're never going to get the kind of democracy that Canadians deserve until we have proportional representation. It's got to happen. We never should be having to talk about the possibility of somebody getting a majority when it's clear a majority are going to vote against that person. That just shouldn't happen. It's undemocratic and wrong.”

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. You can reach him here.

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