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Bennett sounds alarm over opposition MLA's comments praising Cuba

Bill Bennett in Victoria Nov. 17, 2010.

Deddeda Stemler For The Globe and Mail/deddeda stemler The Globe and Mail

B.C. Liberal Bill Bennett, a top lieutenant in Premier Christy Clark's election readiness team, took aim Monday at what he called the blatant infatuation with communism expressed by Surrey New Democrat Jagrup Brar following his week-long vacation at a Cuban resort.

Mr. Bennett further suggested Mr. Brar's pro-Cuba comments peel back the underlying fondness within the B.C. New Democrat caucus for state-run, clampdown-style governments, and warned that freedom-loving British Columbians should be worried.

Mr. Brar told a Radio India audience in Metro Vancouver last week that the gap between rich and poor is virtually non-existent in Cuba, education is free and no child goes to bed hungry.

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"Jagrup's interview should be a wake-up call for any British Columbian who values individual enterprise and individual freedom," Mr. Bennett said in a statement. "While Cubans risk their lives in tiny fishing boats across shark-infested waters to escape one of the world's last communist regimes, the B.C. NDP seems to suggest British Columbia ought to copy Cuba's approach."

Mr. Bennett, whose outspoken views once landed him outside of the Liberal caucus after a public feud with former premier Gordon Campbell, said Mr. Brar's comments indicate an NDP taste for state-control government.

"Sometimes when people are most relaxed, such as after a refreshing holiday in the Caribbean, they are most likely to express their innermost thoughts," said Mr. Bennett. "In this case, Jagrup may well have given us a glimpse into the secret desires of the B.C. NDP caucus."

Mr. Bennett called on NDP Leader Adrian Dix to distance himself from his MLA, and he called on Mr. Brar to retract his comments and apologize to Cuban Canadians.

NDP caucus chairman Shane Simpson scoffed at Mr. Bennett's comments, saying the Liberals should concentrate on B.C. issues rather than attack an Opposition member's holiday reports.

"I would think that Bill Bennett and Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals would be much better served if they paid a little more attention to what's going on in B.C., [rather] than Cuba," he said.

But Mr. Simpson did wade into international politics, saying there are vast political, social and economic differences between Cuba and British Columbia, but visitors to the Caribbean country can't deny its achievements in health and education.

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"Most people would acknowledge that the Cuban society has done a pretty good job in terms of their taking and making education accessible and making health care accessible in pretty broad terms," he said. "They've succeeded in doing that in an economy that is very modest and struggling."

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