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The return of Jack Layton

In Canada on August 12, 2010 at 20:32

Don Martin: The return of Jack Layton

Ted Rhodes/Postmedia News

Ted Rhodes/Postmedia News

How Jack Layton spent his summer: At the Calgary Stampede with wife Olivia Chow.

  August 12, 2010 – 7:44 pm

Jack Layton paused to ponder the inevitable cancer question, taking a long pull on his second beer as he looked across the road at tourists swarming the Centennial Flame.

The New Democrat leader’s executive assistant was coming to fetch him for French lessons and, this being a perfect day with the best patio view of Parliament Hill, he didn’t want to go. Besides, Mr. Layton was still thinking up a delicate response to my question on the status of his seven-month fight against prostate cancer.

While the 60-year-old new grandfather is still gaunt from a diet he despises because it excludes meat and cheese, which even prevented him from even ordering the quiche named after him on the pub menu, his looks have improved since last spring. That pasty greenish pallor from what sources say was radiation therapy is gone and his energy level seems much higher.

“Let’s put it this way,” Mr. Layton says finally. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but you can say my PSA reading is negligible. People who know this cancer will know what that means.”

PSA means prostate specific antigen, a prostate-produced protein that appears in high amounts when cancer is present.

A “negligible’’ PSA reading is a clear sign Mr. Layton’s prostate cancer, which also plagued his father, has been beaten into submission. Jack is back.

That’s good news for Canada’s top political leftie, not so much for Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff.

It’s been a tale of two leaders for most of this summer – Prime Minister Harper for being in relative seclusion on a deserved holiday;  Liberal leader Ignatieff for being on the road discovering a real Canadian summer of beer and barbeques instead his oft-ridiculed travel abroad to enjoy fine wine and French cuisine.

Mr. Layton’s name surfaced in the news periodically, but mostly toiled out of sight to line up star candidates for an election he expects next spring.

That low profile notched up a bit on this week when Mr. Layton came out swinging an hour before our lunch, using the description provided by his 84-year-old mother Doris to blast the Prime Minister’s recent behaviour as ‘‘pig-headed.’’

That’s a bit crude, but it adequately sums up the summer where Mr. Harper lost his census, at least in terms of the long-form version, and put worried frowns on senior staff and even some ministers.

Mr. Harper’s decision and its false justification has tarnished a once-capable minister so badly that Tony Clement would, if he had an ounce of self-respect, resign from cabinet. Mr. Clement should’ve done what former Industry Minister Jim Prentice did when he was asked to consider ending the mandatory filing of the detailed census form several years ago. He told the idea’s proponents to shove it.

This is not a singular vote-changing issue, of course, but when added to other odd moves has redefined this pragmatic Prime Minister as prickly, ruthless and needlessly ideological.

No wonder Conservatives can’t wait for this summer to end. It’s been a non-stop series of bad decisions complicated by worse communications to appease a hard-right support base with nowhere else to go.

While Mr. Ignatieff’s road-tested image enhancement and Mr. Layton’s return to active duty were bad news, Mr. Harper’s biggest headaches were all self-induced.  That’s why Mr. Layton was still grinning when an assistant dragged him away from a perfect-weather patio for a French language classroom. “Stephen Harper has become our best opening to attack,” he laughs. “He’s pig-headed. My mother is absolutely right about him.”

National Post
dmartin@nationalpost.com


Posted in: Canada, Full Comment  Tags: , , ,

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