JACK LAYTON TALKS SHOP
In town for a short media-blitz, Jack Layton touted Greater Victoria's horn for combating global warming by promoting sustainable transportation. But on the potential for a safe-injection site in the city under the Harper government, his tone sobered.
"We're not optimistic," said the leader of the federal New Democrats, before pausing to sip on a local brew at Folkfest's Bayou Bar.
A safe-injection site in Victoria, which would require an exemption from federal drugs laws to get up and running, would follow the precedent set by the safe-injection site in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
However, these facilities aimed at harm reduction, clash with the Conservative's vow to crack down on crime.
"It's an important issue," said Layton who promised the NDP would keep pushing this hot topic in the House of Commons.
Layton's Friday visit to Victoria landed in the wake of Stephen Harper's first visit to Washington, D.C. since becoming Prime Minister.
The meeting provoked strong opinions from Layton, sitting under sunny skies and wearing a FolkFest ball cap.
Harper's statement that Canada is "not prepared to open up the missile defence issue at this time," particularly worried Layton.
"What Mr. Harper has done - is open the door to Canada being part of an arms race," Layton said, noting experts predicted that if the U.S. moved on missile defence and the idea of creating armaments in space, other countries would follow.
These predictions rang true, he said, referring to North Korea's recent missile tests.
"We are not going to have a safer world because we have more missiles."
Nevertheless, military spending in the right places is needed, he said.
Commenting on the $15 billion in military spending that will land CFB Esquimalt at least one supply ship, he said, "Some of the investments in the military are required, because the equipment we're asking our personnel to use is old and dangerous."
Layton, however, criticized the execution of the idea that has billion-dollar contracts flowing to U.S. companies.
"They're not going to tender the process," he said. "They're doing it in a great rush. I think that's inevitably going to cost Canadians dramatically more."
He likened the process to the softwood agreement that leaves $1 billion ( 20 per cent ) of levies in U.S. hands. "It's only to appease Mr. Bush - All of this is designed to generate so-called warming relations with the administration."
Layton is not surprised that Harper has forged warmer relations than his predecessor. "Of course they're warm and fuzzy; we're rolling over and giving in."
While Layton projected himself as a one-man think tank on the issues of the day, he never lost sight of the global menace that is global warming.
Like Al Gore who brought the issue increased notoriety in his film The Inconvenient Truth, Layton carries a climate change Power Point presentation in his laptop.
"I remember the first time I started talking about seven-metre sea level rises. People thought I was smoking something that wasn't legal yet," he said, adding, when the Greenland ice sheet melts, the Inner Harbour will be underwater.
An eternal optimist, Layton has hope this catastrophe can be avoided and credits municipalities for their efforts.
"It's the municipalities who've done the most across the country," he added. "Victoria has already taken some good steps."
But there's much yet to be done.
Many buildings in Victoria need renovations to be energy efficient, he said, noting that such power sources as solar, wind and tidal energy should be pursued locally to reduce the use of fossil fuels.
"There's so many energy efficient and renewable energy products that communities are ready to take on - but it's Ottawa who has the funds."
Layton's manner countered the urgency of his words.
Cool, calm and collected, he strolled through the summer crowds to his next interview.
While his familiar face - and signature mustache - was a spectacle to political-savvy passersby, Layton was amused by the Victoria's "Plasterman" street performer.
He posed for photos and, with child-like glee, pretended to plaster the popular performer's head.
Continuing on, he rounded the bend on Douglas to Broughton to some unexpected notoriety.
"Look, it's Stockwell Day," shouted a homeless man from a street corner.
Layton laughed at being mistaken for the voice of social conservativism.
"I guess he's not up on his federal politics."
Saanich News (CN BC)
Copyright: 2006 Saanich News