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NDP Leader Jack Layton attacks the government during Question Period in the House of Commons on Sept. 29, 2009. (CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters)
NDP Leader Jack Layton attacks the government during Question Period in the House of Commons on Sept. 29, 2009. (CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters)

Brian Topp

Layton plays it smart Add to ...

In my experience, New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton does his homework carefully and consults widely before making big decisions. This occasionally drives his team of advisers crazy, but it has the inestimable advantage of providing the New Democrats with a federal party leader who has at least one ear out of the self-absorbed Ottawa bubble.

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That team of advisers bring their own strengths to the business of addressing the series of 3D chess puzzles that are federal politics.

Among them is a British Columbian who cut his teeth in provincial government (Layton's national party director); an impeccably bilingual Calgarian (his chief of staff); a francophone Quebecker (his press and Quebec principal secretary).

When they go looking for advice, the wide circle they consult includes Layton's newly-elected party president (a Torontonian who recently sat in Parliament as an MP, one of Canada's leading labour negotiators), and his election planning committee working group chair (a Montrealer who ran or supported all three of the party's winning riding campaigns in Quebec, once in Chambly, twice in Outremont). The men and women I'm referring to here have more than a hundred years of diverse political experience between them, including central full-time roles in the last three federal election campaigns.

All of which is to say that Layton has a smart, diverse, veteran team around him.

It shows.

It shows in a tour last election that was copied by one of Layton's opponents a third of the way into the campaign -- the ultimate compliment in politics.

It shows in the careful, successful staging and framing of his statement to the country at the height of the coalition events last year -- broadcast (in focus) from in front of the doors to the House of Commons -- in stark contrast to his partner at the time.

It shows in the detailed, substantive criticism and advocacy his caucus puts to the government in Parliament.

And it shows in how Layton is manoeuvring through the present parliamentary maze in Ottawa.

As I've argued elsewhere here, the public clearly does not want an election; has demonstrated conclusively that it will punish parties that push for one; and is not currently in a mood to elect a fundamentally different Parliament than the one elected eleven months ago.

Responding to these facts has required the New Democrats to rethink their approach to their work in this Parliament -- at least until further events (or an intolerable provocation from the government) justify another change.

That may possibly have involved dining on some words, a process that has not gone unremarked upon.

But the result was a repositioning that seems to fit the national mood, at least for the moment.

At least, that seems to be the view of Layton's caucus, who apparently mostly returned from consulting the people who matter most to them -- their core supporters and constituents back at their ridings -- to report strong and encouraging support.

So Canadians will get what they want from their Parliament this week courtesy of a smart, politically-savvy federal New Democratic leader supported by a capable team -- a leader who knows how to listen to voters.

Hopefully, the solid majority of Canadians who want to replace Mr. Harper's government with something better -- in good time -- will take note.

 

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