How's this for another factor causing Messrs. Layton & Dion to jump so quickly? Highlights are mine - shared with the usual disclaimers....
NDP leader is worth watching
Chantal Hébert, Toronto Star, 06 Jul 08
According to Decima's Bruce Anderson, more voters say that their opinion of NDP Leader Jack Layton is improving than fading, a distinction he shares only with Green Leader Elizabeth May these days.
That is particularly true in Quebec where Layton now ranks second to the Bloc Québécois' Gilles Duceppe.
This summer, Layton will attempt to parlay that personal appreciation into votes for the NDP by turning three soon-to-be-called Quebec by-elections into a mini-referendum on the Afghan mission.
Over the course of a news conference (scheduled before the latest casualties in Afghanistan came to light), Layton made his intentions crystal clear Wednesday. And he reiterated his call for bringing the troops home before Canada's current commitment to NATO ends in February 2009.
The NDP seized on the Afghan issue last summer in part to stake distinct ground from the surging Green party. To this day, its position also sets it apart from the bulk of Quebec's establishment.
Although the Bloc Québécois voted against the extension of the mission last year, it has not been pushing for its early termination. As one Bloc MP put it in a conversation this week, the party agrees that the government has a parliamentary mandate to pursue the deployment until 2009.
Beyond that, Duceppe is pretty much on the same page as Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion. Both oppose another extension of the deployment in Kandahar province but could support an alternative role for Canada in Afghanistan.
Duceppe has so far begged to differ with the vocal section of Quebec public opinion that sees Afghanistan as just an extension of the American-led Iraq war. In a major speech last January, he stressed that, like Canada, a sovereign Quebec would have signed on to the international coalition in Afghanistan.
For his part, Premier Jean Charest just attended the send-off ceremonies for the Valcartier-based contingent that will be off to Afghanistan next month. When a group of battle-bound soldiers visited the National Assembly, Health Minister Philippe Couillard, whose son is an officer-in-training, berated the handful of PQ members who declined to applaud. He is not the only supporter of the mission within the Quebec government.
Culture Minister Christine St-Pierre, who served as a reporter on Parliament Hill until she ran in the provincial election, wrote a letter to the editor of La Presse in support of the deployment last fall. (She was briefly suspended from her Radio-Canada duties for this breach of journalistic neutrality.)
This may be a case where Quebec's sovereignist and federalist tenors are out of synch with mainstream voters. Or it could be that the 70 per cent of Quebecers who tell pollsters they oppose the mission are answering a black-and-white question that leaves no room for nuances. The by-elections will provide part of the answer.
Against the sobering backdrop of probable Quebec casualties, Layton will be making the case that the lives of young soldiers are being squandered on a misguided mission. And while it is a prospect that makes every other party privately squirm, there is no question that the Afghan issue has not been well served by the rhetorical shortcuts that have been offered by both sides in the debate to date.
But there is at least one other reason why the distinctive NDP contribution to this debate should be welcome and it has to do with peace on the Canadian home front. But more on that in another column.