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No prescreening of questions or audience vetting at Layton town hall

The last time Jack Layton held a town hall meeting, the audience seemed like it had been recruited from NDP campaign offices.

But when he held a similar event in Kamloops, B.C. on Friday, it was clear that there has been no vetting of the 200 people in attendance or prescreening of questions. The folks who turned out were largely appreciative of the New Democrat Leader, but some were there to challenge him.

Mr. Layton was not anticipating the question from the man who asked why the NDP was not attacking Conservative Leader Stephen Harper on his foreign affairs record - though he did a nice deflection by saying "first of all, I don't attack people."

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He was not expecting the interjection from a mentally challenged man who just wanted to tell the audience that he worked for the food bank.

He had to dance a bit in responding to the man who wanted to be able to collect full Canada Pension Plan benefits before the age of 65.

And his party clearly didn't script the question from a woman named Pat Brewer who said she was a Gulf War vet with a son who is a pilot in military school

Ms. Brewer wanted to know what the NDP policy is "about replacing the antiquated equipment that our children are using to keep us free to have these meetings." She also wanted to know what the NDP is going to do "about our government's policies about allowing murderers out for coffee breaks."

Mr. Layton has just spent Thursday explaining that his party's crime policies focus on prevention, not punishment. And on Friday, he had said a government led by him would consult with Canadians and develop a white paper on defence before proceeding with the purchase of 65 stealth fighter jets that the Conservative government was preparing to buy. Neither response seemed like something Ms. Brewer would want to hear.

But he plunged away.

On crime, Mr. Layton explained that is primary focus is to prevent it before it starts. And on defence, he said: "We need to have a national discussion, including members of the armed forces who can come and tell us what are the important things for us to be doing with our defence policy."

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Ms. Brewer said later that Mr. Layton's response was more of a debate than an answer.

But he did manage to reply to a series of unscripted questions without a misstep.

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