Posted by Joanna Smith, Ottawa Bureau
New Democrat Leader Jack Layton was under fire again on Thursday after it was reported that Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the candidate for the Quebec riding of Berthier—Maskinongé, does not speak French very well even though she is running to represent a French-speaking community. Brosseau was already in the news for having chosen to work at a student bar at Carleton University in Ottawa – and then head to Las Vegas on vacation – instead of knocking on doors in the riding. Another Quebec candidate is reportedly off on a trip to France.
Layton responded to questions about the controversy by saying – repeatedly – that he is proud of his team of candidates and that some people had family plans they could not break. You might read these remarks in the newspaper or hear them on radio or the television, but I would like to give you a better sense of what it was like to be there when Layton was speaking them in Yellowknife, N.W.T. on Thursday.
The next time you read a line in a news story about a politician deflecting, or outright refusing, to answer a question, you might have a better idea of what that means.
After running through the latest stories about missing candidates, the first reporter wanted his reaction to the new story about Brosseau. The reporter also wanted to know whether Layton was concerned that what happened to Mario Dumont, the former leader of the Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), when his party unexpectedly grew their caucus from five to 41 seats – becoming the official opposition – in the 2007 provincial election, only to collapse when Quebecers returned to the polls the following year.
MEDIA: “In Quebec you’ve got a couple of candidates that have some interesting stories. You heard of course about the woman who took her vacation in Vegas now it turns out she doesn’t speak French and she’s running in a riding which is primarily unilingually French. I would like your reaction to that…. Looking at all of these things together, I wonder if you worry at all that once you form your government or your opposition or whatever you get, that people are going to look at the candidates that you brought with you and do what they did to Mario Dumont and get rid of them all later on?”
JACK LAYTON: “I’m very proud of our team. We have the best and strongest team that we have ever presented in a national election and of course the MPs that we elect as our past record shows, tend to be the hardest working, best performing, members of parliament in the house of commons and we expect that is going to continue and the election is going to be about whether people want to choose change or not and it’s going to be up to Canadians, Quebecers, to make that decision. They can vote for change or they can slip back to the old parties that they voted for before, in which case Ottawa won’t get fixed.”
That answer had some reporters yelling that he had not answered the harder question.
MEDIA: “The change you’re offering is someone who is running in a Quebec riding who doesn’t even speak French. Can you explain how that is a positive choice for people in Quebec?”
Layton said he was told the accusation was not true. Then Layton gave a similar response when asked about the missing candidates by a French-speaking reporter.
LAYTON (translation): “I am very proud of our team. It is the best team that we have ever presented. The question for citizens is to determine will they vote, will they choose change or will they return to the old choices that have left Ottawa spinning its wheels? It is time to clean things up . . . I have said since the beginning that when we don’t have fixed-date elections, it’s very difficult for people who have made plans for their families, but we have a team that is ready to change things in Ottawa. The question for the voters is do they want change, yes or no?”
That was not good enough for another reporter, who expressed the frustration many of us were feeling.
MEDIA: “I’m sorry. Mr. Layton? No. I need you to answer that question in a real way. This is a woman who is applying for a job. That is what she is doing here in this election campaign and she has made a decision – as have a number of other candidates – not to show up for parts of the job interview. You made an allegation to Mr. Ignatieff, during the debate, about being absent from work and now you’re putting up candidates who are absent for a job interview. How is that acceptable to you and to Canadians?”
LAYTON: “I’m extremely proud of our team. This is a hard-working group of people from all backgrounds. Some of them had family plans that couldn’t be changed and I think a lot of Canadians are going to understand that can happen.”
MEDIA: “So then missing a job interview—
LAYTON: “I’ll let you interrupt me as often as you want, but I’ll try to answer as best I can.”
MEDIA: “But you’re not answering the question. That’s why I’m interrupting you.”
LAYTON: “I’m going to try.”
MEDIA: “That’s why I’m interrupting you.”
LAYTON: “Okay fine. So my view is that people are doing their best to represent the views that we have and are putting forward to Canadians and Canadians have a choice when they go into vote on that ballot, it’s a question of whether they want to vote for change or they want to vote for the same old thing that they’ve had in the past.”
MEDIA: “Or for someone who doesn’t show up for their job interview.”
Layton: “Here’s a person who had some family plans that couldn’t be changed. That happens in life. I’m very proud of our team. It’s a hard-working team that is ready to serve.”
Another reporter tried again.
MEDIA: “Mr. Layton, my entire family is on a beach right now while I am here covering the election. At least one of the candidates could do the same thing. I am skipping my vacation to be here with you and cover this important national event. Why can’t your candidates do the same thing?”
LAYTON: “Most of them are here. Some had family plans that couldn’t change. I am very proud of this group. This is a hard-working group of people that represents all backgrounds. They are the type of people that you want to have in the House of Commons because they represent the great diversity of our country and if you want to have change, they are the candidates that you are going to want to vote for.”