[Hpn] Paul Martin's Policies Responsible Gor Homeless Deaths
William Charles Tinker
Fri, 28 May 2004 04:47:51 -0400
Friday, May. 28, 2004
BlackBerry fuels nasty campaign brush fire
By CAMPBELL CLARK and STEVEN CHASE and JANE TABER
Victoria, Montreal and Ottawa - The first call came into the Liberal war
room at 9:04 Wednesday night.
The party's deputy director, Steven MacKinnon, was startled at the news
coming out of Toronto, but he didn't need to tell the Liberals' public face
in the capital. Heidi Bonnell was already responding to e-mails she was
receiving on her BlackBerry.
Reporters across the country were demanding a response to NDP Leader Jack
Layton's assertion, made that night in Toronto, that Paul Martin's policies
were responsible for the deaths of homeless people.
The Liberals' initial response was blunt: "Mr. Layton owes an apology to
those people who live in poverty. These kinds of cheap comments cheapen the
But it was just the first return volley in a 24-hour battle that dominated
the federal election campaign yesterday, and may yet come to define the 2004
election, which is already emerging as equal parts instant messenger,
Crossfire and Dr. Phil.
The furor over Mr. Layton's homeless-deaths allegation was an unexpected
media sensation for the three major national campaigns, which had to change
their agendas to cope with it.
So powerful is the use of digital technology in the election that single
comments can spread like wildfire along broadband lines and satellite
signals, from war rooms in Ottawa to campaign buses rolling along distant
highways in the Maritimes.
The wireless war of 2004 erupted Wednesday night when the NDP Leader went,
as political operatives like to say, off message. Mr. Layton has long been
known in Toronto politics for his ability to make headlines. Since moving to
the federal scene, his preening for television cameras has earned him the
nickname "Liveshot Jack."
But even his own advisers say they were not prepared for his statement that
came during a visit to a church in downtown Toronto. To delighted reporters
and a crowd of clapping supporters, he said hundreds of homeless deaths had
to be blamed on Mr. Martin, who, as finance minister in the 1990s, had
drastically cut social funding.The Liberal war room got the comments shortly
after they were uttered, and e-mailed a response line to every reporter in
its address book. It was, what one Liberal adviser acknowledged, "an
With only a few hours sleep, the Liberal attack squad was back at it by 7
a.m. yesterday, making their daily conference call to Mr. Martin's advisers,
who had risen at 4 a.m. on a campaign swing through British Columbia. They,
in turn, had to lay out the day's options for Mr. Martin at a breakfast
briefing in Victoria's grand old Empress Hotel.
The Liberal Leader was still in disbelief at the Layton comment - "What did
you say?" was his first reaction - but he soon argued the best response was
to ignore the content of the accusation and attack Mr. Layton for breeding
cynicism. He got his opportunity after visiting a veterans' care facility in
"There'll be many blows in politics, I guess, and some of them are going to
be low," said Mr. Martin, whose team opened the election with a barrage of
attack ads against Mr. Harper. "I think that that kind of a statement
reflects far more on Mr. Layton than anything else."
By noon, Pacific time, the Liberals had a new spin, which they sent to
reporters on all three national campaigns by e-mail. "This outlandish
statement by Mr. Layton once again illustrates his credibility is his
greatest liability," it read. "The truth is it was the Tory government of
Brian Mulroney that reduced support for social housing programs steadily
from 1983 to 1993."
By midday, reporters on both coasts were receiving e-mails from all the
major parties with claims and counterclaims about the Prime Minister.
Campaigning in the Maritimes, the Conservatives put out a line saying that
Mr. Martin was, in fact, responsible for putting far more lives at risk,
whether they be ill-equipped soldiers or seniors in hospital waiting lines.
The message was sent straight to reporters covering the Liberals.The NDP war
room in Ottawa had its own crew firing off e-mails as fast as they could be
written, each loaded with new allegations about Liberal failures to save
lives. The authors were following their own war room's motto: "Never leave a
As soon as talk TV was on the air, the e-mail flurry was matched by a verbal
war, as party mouthpieces went at it. Ms. Bonnell went on Don Newman's CBC
Newsworld war-room panel to say how ridiculous Mr. Layton's allegation was,
saying that the Liberal national homelessness initiative was extended to
2006 and will create more than 8,000 beds this year.
Liberal researchers sent out a "reality check," dismissing the Layton
comment. Later, the Liberals put up Trinity-Spadina MP Tony Ianno on another
Newsworld debate. Mr. Ianno is running against Olivia Chow, Mr. Layton's
All this time Liberal researchers were working overtime, looking for a
knock-out response. They figured they found it, discovering that Mr.
Layton's father, former Tory cabinet minister Bob Layton, voted for the 1993
Mulroney government budget in which the Tories reduced funding to social
That tidbit was given to Liberal panelist Mike Robinson, who used it on
another Newsworld panel late yesterday afternoon.
The NDP responded with their own candidates. Libby Davies, one of the
party's B.C. stars, shadowed the Liberal entourage, making sure reporters
knew her perspective.
Like guerrilla fighters who had managed to draw fire from an immobile tank
division, the NDP campaign was thrilled. Their man - once ridiculed as a
showboat with no clout - was the new star.
"It refocuses the campaign on an NDP issue," one official gloated.
Having started the fury, Mr. Layton took his campaign to Montreal last
night, but did not slow down. He continued to repeat his line - people died
because of Paul Martin - for every camera that showed up. He then bowed his
head and appeared to choke back tears when a Globe and Mail reporter asked
why he had gone off message the previous evening. "I've been to too many
memorials . . . for homeless people who have died," Mr. Layton said before
getting into a car and burying his face in his hands, the cameras still
As for the wild ride of the previous 24 hours, one of his earlier comments
said it all - that in the digital age, theatre still matters: "We're in an
election, so we're going to debate the issues for the next 36 days, and if
it means some enthusiastic talk in order to get some of these issues on the
platform so that we don't have to be hearing endlessly about Liberal
scandals, then yes, I am prepared to do it."
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