In a week without committees, an inveterate liveblogger risks suffering from a slow, agonizing suffocation, which is why we tend to leap at each and every opportunity to keep our fingers spry and nimble—and that, darling readers, is what brings us here today. Here in this case being the Marriott on Kent Street in Ottawa, which is playing host to the annual meeting of the Shepherds of Good Hope, and, as a result, to a luncheon address by the Honourable Jack Layton, which will begin as soon as the assembled masses make it to the other side of the buffet table.
I have an ulterior motive—I mean, beyond my usual ulterior motives. This is going to be my first foray into liveblogging with my shiny new BlackBerry Curve, which has an ever so slightly smaller keyboard, thus requiring digit reeducation. I figure I’d best get acclimatized while the House is on a break so I can be back at top form when my committees return next week.
Because this was a last minute decision—covering the speech, that is—my presence here was unexpected, which is causing mild (but manageable) consternation for the organizers. They don’t seem to have an actual media section, so instead, I’m sitting at a table with normal human beings, who are reacting with surprising serenity to the silent, madly tapping girl thrust into their midst.
I’m trying not to look longingly at the food—it seems a bit petty, given that this is a conference for those who help the homeless and the hungry—but man, next time I cover a lunch gig, I’m definitely remembering to eat breakfast, because it smells absolutely delicious, but in a wholesome, economical, socially progressive way.
Okay, there’s a definite problem with the sound system in this room: no one at my table (which admittedly is at the back) can understand anything that the guy at the mic—not Jack Layton, I should note—is saying. “No idea,” one said cheerfully, as he clapped anyway. “I like the enthusiasm,” agreed the woman sitting beside me. He seems to be talking about homelessness—although in fairness, that’s the ultimate in cold reading; I could say that from the antechamber outside.
And here’s Jack! I will admit to having an advance copy of his speech, so I don’t really have to listen to him, but that feels like cheating, so I promise not to rely on it.
He starts out by thanking the volunteers—and then goes off script with a story about a church in Montreal that does good things—before plunging into the French portion of the speech. Unfortunately, there are no babelfish earpieces—it’s amazing how used to those things one gets on the Hill—so I’ll just summarize: the Shepherds of Good Hope do good work.
Now he’s moved on to the plight of students. One particular student, named Chris, told Jack that financial pressures—tuition, student loans, rents—force him to rely on a food bank—in Saskatoon, a “booming town,” Layton reminds us all. Well, not quite Fort MacMurray, but close.
More about poverty and homelessness, human dignity—but, coming soon: the carbon tax! Yes, it may sound like a leap, as far as the topic of the day, but trust him, he has a killer segue.
The crowd seems reasonably interested in the speech, although they’re also trying to eat soup, and that can command one’s full attention to avoid unfortunate spillage-related incidents.
Oh, and apparently, Layton will be talking about the resignation of Ian Brodie, and the still-unreleased report into that whole NAFTA/Obama leak debacle that has hung over his head like a cloud since the budget, when he made his fatal foray into off the record chitchat with the media. Well, CTV, anyway. He didn’t chat with me at the lockup, I can tell you that.
Shoutout to the unemployed—especially those in the manufacturing and forestry sectors—and boo-urns to goverments, in general, for turning a blind eye to their poverty and despair.
He keeps veering off the script, which is fine—in fact, I like to see politicians demonstrate that they can think on their feet—but with the somewhat foggy acoustics, and the jumping between French and English, it’s sometimes hard to follow. But I think we all know the main theme: the NDP wants to help working families with day care, employment insurance and other enlightened programs.
And now a trip down memory lane, and all the good things that the NDP—or its predecessor, the CCF—has accomplished over the years, despite never being in government, from health care to the national homeless program, which was a condition, he notes, of the party supporting the budget put forward by “the other party.” It takes me a few seconds to realize he means the Liberals.
And now, the carbon tax! Which is, you will no doubt be less than shocked to hear, a Bad Idea that will force seniors and low income Canadians into the poorhouse by jacking up the cost of heating fuel. Canada, he reminds the room, is a cold place, but the NDP has a warm heart, and wants to ensure that everyone is snug as bugs in rugs, with homes heated in an environmentally friendly way.
Huh—interesting. Another reference to that infamous NDP budget, when he agreed to support the then-Liberal minority government—and kept Paul Martin in power—in exchange for corporate tax cuts and other good things. I wonder exactly why he keeps mentioning that. I’d say it was an olive branch to the Liberals, except—yeah, I don’t think that’s the case.
And that’s it—onto the scrums. Which, as a special treat, I’ll also be liveblogging in the next post!