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The Globe and Mail

The NDP should get the hell out of Ottawa

NDP lLader Jack Layton makes his way to a news conference in Ottawa on Oct. 29, 2010.


In the House of Commons on Thursday, Conservative MP Jim Abbott had some harsh words for Canadian news organizations:

A few days after returning [from Afghanistan] I was at a social event where MPs, senators and the national news media were mingling, and as I walked by some reporters, one of them asked me about my impressions from the trip. I told him, first, I was blown away with the complete enthusiastic dedication of the Canadian soldiers, aid workers and diplomats in Afghanistan … second, the coverage of Afghanistan by our national news media has been at best inadequate … the news coverage, or lack of it, on Afghanistan has actually distorted the impressions that most Canadians have, or many Canadians anyway. Canadian media coverage of Afghanistan for 10 years has been the equivalent of covering news in Canada and Canadian events by having three reporters driving around in a Vancouver police cruiser on Vancouver's east side. What would that coverage tell Canadians about Canadians' aspiration or the beauty of our land or our potential? This parallel is appropriate, because news organizations from Canada have had an average of three people in Kandahar, driving around in LAVs or confined to the air base.

Mr. Abbott, who is a strong supporter of Canadian involvement in Afghanistan, offered these observations during debate of a Bloc motion condemning the Government's duplicity in extending the mission to 2014. Given the paucity of coverage of that debate today, you'd have to extend his remarks about the media from Kandahar to Ottawa, and include opponents of Canadian participation in Afghanistan as well.

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While most of the points raised yesterday by Conservative and Bloc MPs were predictable (and sometimes disingenuous), two interventions stood out and are well worth reading. From the Liberal side, Bob Rae explained why Canada is in Afghanistan - and why we must remain there - with an eloquence and intelligence that we've seldom if ever heard from the Conservative Government. Virtually nothing of what he said is reported in today's papers. On the NDP side, Jack Harris tore through the Conservative and Liberal positions with devastating facts and logic. I could find nothing of what he said in today's papers.

For some time, public opinion polls have made clear that Canadians have soured on the Afghanistan mission. You have to wonder, therefore, why Jack Layton - who cut his political teeth at McGill University during the Vietnam war years - has not chosen to organize and channel that sentiment across the country. Instead, the NDP has deployed its spin doctors to emulate the big boys and girls playing the Ottawa game; meanwhile, its MPs and the leader himself have been chasing clip with clever quip.

Judging from press coverage and current polls, all of this amounts to a losing proposition in the parliamentary precincts - be it on the question of Afghanistan or this week's campaign against "tax cheats." It's time the party got the hell out of the village called Ottawa and connected with voters - and non-voters - in the rest of the country.

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