View From the Hill by Keith Beardsley – Dial down the volume – June 1, 2011

Ottawa ON – NDP Premier Darrell Dexter of Nova Scotia has offered Jack Layton some friendly advice, namely dial down the volume. Pretty solid advice and hopefully Jack will follow it.

It’s perfectly normal for opposition parties to criticize the government. Let’s face it that is what they do. As the third party, the NDP could constantly attack, but rarely had to explain their solutions. Since May 2nd that has changed and they have to grow up in a hurry.

Building on Dexter’s advice to Layton, I would also offer the following.

Think before speaking. Now that Layton is the leader of the Official Opposition, every word and opinion he offers will be scrutinized by the media and voters. Every comment will be evaluated for its impact on the whole country not just the local area that he might be visiting. Comments made to associations, mayors or companies will all be viewed in a national context and he must be prepared to defend his comments.

For example to attack Harper for not visiting the Quebec flood zone and for not having troops stay behind to help with the clean up suggests that the NDP wants a new national policy. If they do, have they thought this through? Is the NDP now suggesting that the Prime Minister must visit every zone that floods every year? Who are they suggesting pays for the extra work the troops would do? Have they calculated the costs per year not just for this year but for every year that there are floods across the nation?  What about provincial jurisdiction? All of these answers should have been at his finger tips before he made a comment to the media. The NDP leader can no longer fly by the seat of his pants on national policy issues.

Layton also has to be prepared to answer tough questions on previous positions adopted by the NDP. He can’t keep ducking them as to do so will force the media to go around him. For example, refusing to adequately answer if his present caucus supports the Clarity Act will simply encourage the media to go and ask each individual NDP MP for their opinion. That is a quick route to a communications nightmare for the NDP. The same holds true for Thomas Mulcair. Where does he stand on the Clarity Act and 50% +1? Where does the NDP stand on the role of the Supreme Court of Canada in interpreting a referendum result?

If the NDP is waffling on the Clarity Act, other parties will quickly go on the offense. Stephane Dion’s attacks on the NDP position being one example. If the NDP don’t support the Clarity Act, then what amendments are they proposing?

The NDP should hold the government to account, but it’s crucial that both their leader and MPs think before going public.

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails.

Scott Beck



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