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Jack Layton's Hot Buttons

The NDP Leader on our climate, our troops, our banks, the next election, and more. A Tyee interview.

Richard Warnica 11 Jan

Richard Warnica is a senior editor at The Tyee.

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'Harper doesn't get it.'

Jack Layton is in a pickle. You see, climate change has always been his thing. For Layton, this heating world is like his skyhook; it's the shot he just can't miss. But now there are these new kids in town. And they want in the action. What's worse, they're coming at him from both sides.

On Layton's right is Stephane Dion. The long-shot former Liberal cabinet minister wrapped himself in green before marching to the head of his party in December. Now he can't make a public appearance without flaunting his dog Kyoto, and showing off his enviro chops. On Layton's left is Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green. The party has great brand recognition to go with its growing profile as the go to party on the greenhouse file.

Even six months ago, Layton could safely say he owned the environment issue. Now? He's just one of three. And with Canadians now ranking the environment as high as health care in some polls, and a wacky winter blasting the normally temperate West Coast, small 'g' green voters could make all the difference in the next federal election.

It's no surprise then, that when Layton sat down with The Tyee this week in Vancouver, he had climate on his mind. Over decaf coffee at the Four Seasons hotel bar, Layton spoke about climate legislation, the new Liberal leader and more.

Tyee: If you could implement three federal policies on climate change right now, what would they be?

Layton: Bring in compulsory emissions standards for automobiles built and sold here...immediately end subsidization of big oil and gas companies and move all of that money and then some into investing in solutions...[and] put very strong caps on industrial emitters.

Are any of those must haves for an NDP vote on the Clean Air Act?

I think they're all must haves. We've proposed them all already. I've met with the Prime Minister and told him those are things that must be done.

About the tar sands -- how reasonable is it to expect them to have capped and begun to reduce their emissions by 2012?

Well, we've called for a moratorium...There's got to be some strategy put in place for the capture of carbon. And if there isn't then things have got to be dramatically slowed down. Besides, it doesn't make sense to me to bring down natural gas from the artic and use it to crack open bitumen that can then be sent in a slightly more viscous form to big refineries and upgraders in the States to be turned into fuel for SUVs. This is not a logical use for natural gas.

Would it be legitimate for the federal government to declare a moratorium on oil sand growth?

There really isn't a direct technique, no.

Stephane Dion has branded himself as a green leader. Are you worried about the impact that will have on NDP support?

No. I've been urging parties to start to take the environment more seriously...People always say aren't worried about how they [The Liberals] always steal the NDP's ideas. And I say they can't steal them, they're available for free!

Would you be happy then if the Liberals were elected and used the NDP's ideas?

No, because they don't implement them. They talk about them. They borrow the ads. But they don't deliver the goods. I remember when I got up in the house and proposed compulsory auto emissions standards. Stephane was the minister and he just put us down with a dismissive wave of the hand.

You've spoken to Stephen Harper, you're going to speak to [Environment Minister] John Baird, are you getting the message that they are willing to make compromises?

I really don't know. It's too early. I was very discouraged and disheartened by the Prime Minister's reference to how our emissions were going to go up by 50 per cent from 1990 by 2012 and there really wasn't much you could do about it.

I think he was trying to dampen expectations. And I think that was wrong. It clearly shows he didn't read the book the Weather Makers, which I gave him -- hand inscribed...

What did you inscribe it with?

Well I said, we've all got families. And I think every policy maker in the world should read this book and think about their families and decide if they're going to do something. Because the Australian government began to change their tune after that book came out. And we need to change our tune. And I don't think Mr. Harper gets it. I really don't think he gets it.

If he doesn't get it, why not force an election now?

We have voted for an election on every opportunity since the last one. So I love this line about us being in bed. Boy if that's being in bed, it's a heck of a relationship. Who supported them the first time? The Bloc, on the budget. If the government had been brought down on the budget last March then Canadian politics would be a very different right now.

Ok, let's say you run into Gilles Duceppe and Stephane Dion in the hallway and they say Jack, we want to take him down today. Do you vote yes?

Well first of all neither one of them have said that. And I make a practice of not answering hypothetical situations. All I know is the Bloc kept them in power twice already, on softwood lumber and on the budget and the Liberals made sure there were enough Liberals voting for the Afghanistan mission, which was also a confidence motion...We said no. We don't support this government. We are voting against it. What we're doing and the approach I've always taken is case by case, and that's the approach we'll take.

On Afghanistan, what do you think the Martin and Harper governments have done wrong?

I think [Martin] said to himself, we've turned them [The Americans] down on Iraq, we've turned them down on NMD [missile defense], they want some help in Southern Afghanistan, they've got 20,000 troops down there on Operation Enduring Freedom, can't we make it a NATO mission and then we'll have a reason to get some troops in. So on the promise it would be a NATO mission, they sent in troops. They did not have a plan. They hadn't studied the quagmire of the situation. They tried to label it as diplomacy defense and development. But it never was. It was always nine parts defense for every one part development and very little diplomacy.

So what's the way forward now?

The first thing is to make clear that we are taking our troops out. No one takes you seriously unless you're willing to take that step.


Yes. It's what our convention approved It's what I asked them to approve. I mean you take them out safely. You don't say it on Monday and you're gone on Tuesday. But as that's happening,, you start talking to the three or four other countries who are in Afghanistan and are refusing to participate in the war and you say, let's try to launch a whole new national approach based on diplomacy, trying to approve a cease fire, etcetera.

Anything else you want to talk about?

Bank profits hit a record level of profit last year. Why is it we allow them to charge you to take your money out of the bank? That's not right. It's illegal in Britain. It should be illegal here. Especially low income people can only take a little bit of money out on any occasion. So that means the percentage the bank is withholding of their own cash, just to take it out, is very high and usurious and wrong. And we could help put some money into hands of people by making that illegal. And that's a tangible thing that we can do.

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