Next to the campus of Memorial University, where, after suitably inspiring about 150 of Newfoundland’s finest young minds in a manufacturedly casual setting, Jack Layton appeared at a press conference with his suddenly noteworthy candidate for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl.
Pressed again to account for Ryan Cleary’s altogether pessimistic feelings for both the NDP and Confederation, the NDP leader made variations on his earlier points, reassuring us of his assurance that Mr. Cleary was not a separatist and would never again refer to him in print as “Jackie Layton.” Upping the ante just slightly, Layton made sure to be photographed shaking Mr. Cleary’s hand and smiling wide.
Then Layton turned the proceedings over to Mr. Cleary and disappeared from sight.
“This is my first scrum,” said Cleary, sporting a black suit, white shirt and open collar. “On this side of the mic.”
First question: “How do you explain calling the NDP losers, aging artsy-fartsy granolas, and your comments about leaving the country? How do you explain that to Jack Layton?”
“I’m not going to apologize for the comments, for what I wrote at the time and in the context in which I wrote them. I was a columnist for a lot of years. I was a newspaper person for 18 years. And I expressed an opinion. And I did it to challenge, I did it to entertain, I did it to provide my lay of the land.”
“But how do you explain it to the man you’re now running for?”
“Jack Layton asked me, am I a separatist. No, I am not a separatist. Jack Layton asked me, do I believe in Canada? I believe in Canada. I have nothing to explain.”
But explain he did.
“I think that this confederation needs work. That’s a fact … I was simply pointing out that confederation has problems, specifically to Newfoundland and Labrador, and something needs to be done about it.”
“How do you explain that evolution in thinking in such a short period of time? Now suddenly you’re buying into national unity and you’re buying into Jack Layton?”
“I… I came out, on Thursday, I signed my name, I became a member of the NDP party. And I did that because the principles of the ND party, NDP, NDP best reflect who I am and what I stand for. I believe that Jack Layton is the best leader in this country to bring us all together. To bring Newfoundland and Labrador into Confederation.”
Louis St. Laurent objected from the hereafter. Opposite Cleary, a bust of Joey Smallwood frowned.
“But the question is why do you now think that when you didn’t think just a little while ago? Journalists have opinions, clearly you didn’t like the guy and now you do you like him…”
“I have a lot of opinions.”
“… why do you suddenly like him and buy into what he’s saying?”
“First off, there are no NDP MPs in Newfoundland and Labrador, there’s one NDP MHA in the House of Assembly. When I wrote the things that I wrote about the NDP, it was more to challenge the party, more to challenge the people to have a look at the NDP as an alternative.”
He disparages, you see, because he cares.
“When the Independent closed in mid-July, I took a good, hard look at all the different parties. I considered politics for the first time, because I didn’t think I had any alternatives in journalism in Newfoundland and Labrador, for various reasons. And I took a good look at politics. I looked at all the parties. Prior to the last election, there was no bigger defender of Loyola Hearn than myself. Until he got into office. And, to be honest, Loyola Hearn broke my heart. I took a look at all the potential leaders and Jack Layton is my man.”
“You couldn’t get a job in journalism, so now you’re going to be a politician?”
“I’m a Newfoundlander and Labradorian first. I have spent my whole career studying, investigating, reporting on this province. And I am a passionate…”
“So you wanted this job because you couldn’t be a journalist any longer?”
“I wanted this job because I believe that I can do it well. I believe that I can represent the people of St. John’s South Mount Pearl and Newfoundland and Labrador.”
“But can you understand,” someone begged, “why people might view your candidacy with cynicism?”
“Absolutely,” Cleary confirmed. “If you go to the Independent website and you punch in Stephen Harper or Danny Williams or Confederation or Jack Layton or the CBC or the Telegram, locally, you’ll see that I have opinions on a lot of different things. I did my job and I did my job to the best of my ability. I do not make apologies.”
This persisted for a bit longer, Cleary pledging his allegiance to the province once more. He confirmed the NDP as “winners” and himself as an “aging granola.” And everyone laughed. And then fun time was over.
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