NDP fails at damage control after Davies' comments go viral

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Sun Media, Friday, June 18, 2010

Jack Layton was having a bad day in the midst of what would turn out to be a very bad week for the NDP.

On the NDP front bench, Libby Davies is Layton’s seatmate to his left (appropriately enough), while Tom Mulcair sits just to his right in the far corner of opposition benches. And judging by their body language, the House was an exceedingly uncomfortable place for all three of them.

Davies was under continuous fire for her idiotic statements about Israel given in a video interview to a blogger at an anti-Israeli protest rally in Vancouver on June 5. But it was only this week that her remarks on the Israeli “occupation” of Palestine, dating from 1948 she said, went viral on YouTube.

She had quite a bit more to say about the imperative that “Israel has to remove itself from illegal settlements — they’re basically all illegal.” She went on to refer to the siege, rather than the blockade, of Gaza, and that “there has to be some kind of settlement, whether it’s negotiated or somehow imposed.”

Since Davies is deputy leader of the NDP, the question naturally arose as to whether she was announcing policy other than the boilerplate two-state solution. Mulcair, the party’s other deputy leader who has a large Jewish community in his Montreal riding of Outremont, called her comments “grossly unacceptable.”

Well, who’s in charge of this outfit? Stephen Harper wanted to know when he jumped into the fray in question period on Wednesday. For the second day running, Harper demanded Layton fire Davies for her “extremist” comments and “a fundamental denial of Israel’s right to exist.”

Harper raised the rhetorical bar even higher on Wednesday, asserting “the deputy leader of the NDP knew full well what she was saying. She made statements that could have been made by Hamas, Hezbollah or anybody else with no repercussions from that party whatsoever.”

When Layton returned to the charge, criticizing Michael Ignatieff for suggesting a continuing role for Canadian troops in Afghanistan, Harper pounced again: “Quite frankly, I do not think that a leader who shelters an MP who makes anti-Israeli extremist statements without repercussion should be making any criticism of (Liberal) policy.”

At which point Layton pivoted and walked out of the House at once looking wan and winded, discouraged and disgusted. He knew he’d been had by Harper.

Davies had already apologized on her website for what she called a serious and “inadvertent” error, but Layton should have forced her to apologize in the House and that would have been the end of it. In failing to do so, the NDP ignored the first rule of political damage control: admit the mistake, take the hit and move on.

And then the NDP stepped on its own message when it walked away from a consensus struck by the other three parties on a process for reviewing Afghan detainee documents. A panel of learned jurists will determine their release and each party designates a member to review them, striking a delicate balance between the rights of Parliament and national security. But the NDP demanded unlimited access and wouldn’t sign on.

For a party whose message this session has been making Parliament work, it was an unforced error. And this on an issue which, outside Ottawa, no one cares about.

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