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NDP seeks to balance unity and diversity

NDP Leader Jack Layton celebrated his party's diversity in response this morning to questions about the need to tighten his ship after a series of controversies involving B.C. candidates.

"We have a great many people from the labour movement, from the environmental movement, from business, from the health sector, from the arts and culture sector running for us across the country," he said at the BC Institute of Technology where he announced a national prescription drug plan. "It’s a wonderful group of candidates."

Of course there will be disagreements. Why, the very person who introduced Layton this morning, Burnaby-Douglas MP Bill Siksay, had his ability to ask questions in the House of Commons curtailed for voting against his party on a bill that proposed to increase the age of consent from 14 to 16 for genital sex while leaving it at 18 for extramarital anal sex.

Siksay said he had objected to the bill, ultimately passed in May 2007, for a number of reasons but isn’t necessarily opposed to the enforcement of party lines.

"I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think we accomplish a lot by having a group of colleagues with whom you work on Parliament Hill," he said, adding that a little internal dissent is a healthy but rare thing in the NDP.

Vancouver Centre candidate Michael Byers is the latest NDP candidate to differ publicly with Layton and the party's positions. During a debate at UBC yesterday he said, "We need to shut the tar sands down."

In fact, Layton has called for a moratorium on new tar sands development and an end to subsidies, but has not advocated closing the industry.

Layton said a subsequent conversation with Byers had reassured him that his candidate was "completely in accord with our policies" and invited reporters to go to the original source for further clarifications.

Byers, however, was not at the Friday morning event. When a reporter noted in French that Byers was absent, Layton said in French, "I imagine he’s going door-to-door in Vancouver Centre . . . It’s very tight in his riding."

Other campaigns are also working to keep their candidates on message. Stephen Harper in particular has been running an extremely tight campaign.

After a campaign rally in Surrey this week, Conservative Party staffers reportedly asked RCMP officers to block reporters from speaking to Dona Cadman, a candidate in Surrey-North who alleged that the Tories had tried to strike a deal with her husband, Chuck Cadman, to topple the then Liberal government.

NDP senior press secretary Karl Bélanger said Layton doesn’t need to follow Harper’s lead. "For sure there are a variety of views in any party. Once the campaign is ongoing we have one platform."

He added, "What Mr. Harper is doing is censoring his candidates. Correcting the record about what the position of the party is, is not censorship."

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