Town Hall with Jack Layton

In clear pre-election mode, this last Wednesday evening, Jack Layton held a live over-the-phone “town hall” meeting, where he answered questions in real time and polled listeners on their priorities.  It was a great way to outreach to the community and worked quite well.  If elected, I’ll keep that in mind as a way to engage people who prefer the comfort of their own home.  But I’d also like to have in-person town halls and simply attend meetings with local groups.

It’s no surprise to me that the top two priorities from the listeners in this riding involved seniors and the environment.  I’m reading a little bit into it.  The options given didn’t include “seniors” but rather concerns about pension security.  Still, any seniors concerned about cash flow would have voted for “pensions” as the closest option.  The economy was not an option – the options were pre-selected and I suppose this is not something Jack feels strong on, but that would have been another high priority, had it been on the list, along with the related issue of jobs for youth, an issue which was brought up three times in questions.

When prodded, Jack didn’t say much about how he would address the top two priorities, but instead asked what the next priority was.  It was health care.  The bottom priorities, home heating and pharmacare, are precisely the ones Jack Layton has been campaigning on in this riding.

I’m concerned that what little he said about challenging the big polluters was in contradiction to his campaign to reduce home heating costs.  What he specifically said was that we needed to stop subsidizing big polluters (an idea that even Stephen Harper has agreed to, if grudgingly).  But he appears to see no contradiction between the idea of stopping subsidies to fossil fuels, and stripping taxes from home heating, when clearly an elimination of subsidies would mean that home heating fuels could not get special treatment, such as being stripped of taxes applied to everything else.

For the record, I’m not ignoring the concern about rising fuel costs, and I would agree with Jack that we need to ensure that people can afford to heat their homes.  But the right way to do that is not by subsidizing cheap fuels, but by distributing tax money (including tax money from a carbon tax) in a way that makes sure that poorest people can not only pay their bills but invest in retrofits and improved efficiency.  He’s got it wrong, going into the fourth election in a row.  Every time Jack was campaigning hard on some sort of subsidy for fossil fuels.

He got it wrong on the economy too, when that came up as a question.  Basically his approach is to throw money into job creation and direct aid to people until the economy picks up because people are suffering now.  I shouldn’t fault him too much here, because he’s echoing an expectation that’s common as dirt – that economies usually grow.  The problem is that economies have only been growing steadily, at rates like we’re used to, since the second world war.  And every time there was a critical resource shortage, particularly of oil, the global economy has gone into a tailspin.

So throwing ourselves into debt and counting on economic growth to slowly begin to dig ourselves out may be an extremely foolish path as we near the end of oil.  We do need to invest in the economy of the future, and we should focus on those areas – green energy, retrofits and green transportation – where the economy still has growing room.  Funnily enough, I think Jack would actually do that, but that’s not what he said.

I would have handled the question on a trade agreement under negotiation with the EU differently.  Jack began with the necessity of trade and expressed concern for issues like the privatization of water or a potential attack on health care.  I agree with these particular worries, but I would have focused on the overarching concern of negotiations in secret.  Because of the secrecy, we won’t know any of the details of what’s being negotiated until a huge document is presented in Parliament, and we won’t have enough time to evaluate and address all the implications.  The notion that government negotiators can come up with the best trade deal and anticipate all problems without input from pesky constituents is arrogant, rude and wrong.

Apart from that, Jack sounded sensible, friendly and well informed.  He greeted one caller in Greek.  I’m proud to say that many of his most sensible moments were those where he was saying what the Green Party has been saying for many years.

For example on Afghanistan, after talking a bit about taking care of veterans, he embraced a plan to invest in development in Afghanistan to not leave behind a failed economy.  This is in line with the Green Party’s commitment to work with poppy farmers to develop legal markets in much-needed medical opiates to satisfy the critical shortages in developing countries.  We’ve been saying that for years while the NDP has been focusing bailing out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible.

And of course the whole idea of eliminating perverse subsidies for polluting industries has long been a Green Party goal, but it’s now getting traction across the political spectrum.

Anyway, an interesting evening.

2 responses to “Town Hall with Jack Layton”

  1. Ken Shepard writes:


    A beautifully crafted commentary that both helped me understand Jack and your own positions as our candidate.

    Your distinctions and preferences sound wise and appropriate. We are lucky to have you.


  2. Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu writes:

    Thanks so much Ken.

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