The Commons: Questions of character

Two days short of a vote that may redeem everything he has said and done these last eight years and moments after addressing a crowd of 2,000 that spilled out of the room and into the street—so much so that the police were compelled to close down the block—Jack Layton is taking questions about a massage he received one night 15 years ago.

Was last night’s report of the massage true? Was the massage prescribed by his doctor? What time did he receive the massage? Had he ever had a massage there before? Was he aware of the establishment reputation? Did it look “sketchy?” How did he react when he heard about last night’s report about the massage? Will he be taking any legal action in regards to the report about the massage? Who does he think is responsible for what he considers a smear?

“I went for a massage at a community clinic,” he says. “The police advised that it wasn’t the greatest place to be and I left and I never went back.”

He has run four campaigns as the leader of a national political party—this last one on a broken hip, just over a year after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Not until just days ago did he do so as anything other than a longshot. Only recently could he claim anything like a real chance of achieving real relevance.

And now he stands here and takes questions about his “character.”

“Not at all,” he says, talking past the first attempt to broach the matter of this massage’s deeper meaning. “Here we are, we are working to bring real change to Ottawa. And offer a real alternative in this election and that’s what people are looking for right now. They’re looking for help with their family doctors. They want to see jobs created. They want to see their pensions protected. This is the kind of change that they want to see and that’s exactly what we’re offering in this election.”

The reporter tries again, but Mr. Layton barely pauses to acknowledge the question.

“Well, there was no wrongdoing at all so it’s not an issue,” he says. “I think what people are concerned about are what’s facing their families. That’s the key issue that people are looking for us to be working on and our offer to Canadians is to make some real change and get results for their families, each and everyday.”

Half the 30 questions that are directed at him have to do with other matters.

What about the 2,000 people who showed up today? Does he think he can capitalize on the NDP’s opportunity? Is he nervous?

“The adrenaline is flowing, that’s for sure,” he says. “And I think that’s happening with all of our candidates and workers because I think there’s a sense that we’re on the threshold of something very exciting.”

Why now? What’s happened? What’s changed?

“I think people were prepared to give Stephen Harper a chance,” he says. “And they found that things didn’t really change in Ottawa. There were lots of promises made that things were going to be done differently … And so a lot of people are saying we need to move in a new direction.”

And what about that hip? And the cancer?

“Anybody who’s had cancer crosses the fingers because you never know what’s going to happen in life,” he says, “but I’m feeling great.”

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