Greetings from the East Side Mario’s at the Holiday Inn in beautiful St. John’s, Newfoundland.
This morning’s event was an announcement on the front lawn of the White family residence, located on a tree-lined street here in the suburbs of St. John’s. With the household posing rigidly behind him, Jack Layton wanted to talk about ATM fees, text messaging charges and gas prices. And, for a few moments, the traveling press played along.
Then questions turned to Ryan Cleary, the self-hating New Democrat candidate for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, former journalist and an outspoken Newfoundland sovereigntist.
The first query came from a local scribe who took the opportunity to review Cleary’s published assertion that New Democrats range from “granola eaters” to “Gucci socialists” to “artsy fartsy types.”
At this, Jack Layton laughed hard. Perhaps a little too hard.
“Well, look, I’ve been going back-and-forth across this country, encouraging people to take a new look at the New Democrats,” he said. “And guess what? We’ve even convinced a journalist.”
There was nary even a titter from the journalists in attendance, so Layton went on.
“Now that to me is the definition of success. Because everyone would suggest that’s not possible,” he explained.
Fair enough. But what of this stuff about Newfoundland taking its oil and gas revenues and divorcing itself from the country? (Freeing itself, in Cleary’s words, from “Confederation’s death grip.”)
“That’s not my understanding of his position … He has outlined his position very clearly and Jack Harris can speak for fully about that.”
That would be the same Jack Harris who was standing to Mr. Layton’s left. The same Jack Harris who was once leader of the Newfoundland NDP and is now running federally. And the same Jack Harris who Cleary also once slagged.
Before Mr. Harris could speak up, someone suggested to Mr. Layton that all of this might only drive voter cynicism. “Not at all,” Mr. Layton said. “There’s no question that he and many others have argued, for years, that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador often get left out of the debate. Their considerations and their needs and even basic fairness isn’t being provided. Remember, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador chose to become part of Canada and so naturally they pay close attention to federal politics.”
He was adrift now. Treading water in a vast sea of verbiage. “And what I’m very excited about, and I’ve got to tell you, I told Jack when I met him just as we were walking up to this podium, I’ve been waiting for this day,” he continued. “Because Jack Harris has been in the House of Commons before and people know the kind of work he can do there. And I believe that he’s going to be elected by the people of St. John’s-East, after the service he’s provided for this province, and I just simply want to publicly thank him, and all of the candidates in Newfoundland and Labrador who stepped forward, at a time when I think the possibilities for New Democrats here are better than they’ve ever been.”
Back then to the stuff about a perceived NDP preference for granola. What would people think, someone asked, if those comments appeared on an NDP flyer?
“I hope people will laugh,” Layton laughed, “just the way I did when you read them out.”
The questions persisted. Layton suggested the reporter ask Cleary himself.
“We have,” the reporter said, “and he says he stands by it.”
“He’s running for us,” Layton pointed out.
“But he stands by the fact that you’re losers and can’t win an election,” the reporter noted.
Layton fell back on that laugh. Mr. Harris stepped toward the microphone.
“I think he said he was concerned that the New Democrats didn’t run to win, but Jack Layton is running to be Prime Minister, you may have noticed, and so has he, obviously,” Harris said. “Here is a guy who as a journalist, and many journalists as you know say provocative things.”
“No,” Layton pleaded, “say it isn’t so.”
“When I was asked the question, I said, to me, I can only assume that his political views have matured and he’s seen the light,” Harris said. “And that’s what we’ve got now, a candidate who’s running to win, and who’s running because he’s also supporting Jack Layton, who’s running to win as Prime Minister of Canada. That’s the way I see it and I think that’s the way a lot of people see it.”
And with that bit of theatre finished, Layton, Harris and the nice family retired inside to pose for the cameras around the kitchen nook.