Jack Layton on Afghanistan, guns and the challenges facing young Canadians

OTTAWA (CUP) — Federal NDP Leader Jack Layton visited the University of Ottawa to take part in a panel discussion on the relevance of feminism on Sept. 21.

Before addressing the crowd, Layton took a few minutes to speak to University of Ottawa newspaper The Fulcrum about Canada’s role in Afghanistan, gun control, and the challenges faced by young Canadians.

FULCRUM: Why are you on the University of Ottawa campus today?

JACK LAYTON: I’ve been on the campus here many times . . . [and] the invitation this time had an interesting and I think very important focus, which was violence against women . . .

I was involved years ago in the creation of something called the White Ribbon Campaign, which was a campaign of men speaking out against men’s violence against women.

Using the Internet and volunteers, [the White Ribbon Campaign] encouraged men in particular — but women too — to raise the issue of awareness that men need to speak out, men need to change the way they relate to women and need to promote equality. Men are different than women, but they don’t have to dominate . . .

So I was very happy to have the invitation to come and talk about it a little bit and answer some questions, and [I’m] looking forward to having the chance to speak to these issues.

FULCRUM: It’s been a pretty shaky week for university campuses across the country, with what happened at Dawson College in Montreal, and a lot of people have brought up the gun registry in relation to this. Has it changed the way you look at gun control in Canada?

LAYTON: Would this particular instance have been stopped? Maybe not. In fact, it shocks me to know that this man — [Kimveer] Gill — was able to apparently obtain a semi-automatic weapon, or a pistol, to carry around in the city legally. This shouldn’t be legal. Period.

And it’s time that our laws said if you want to be walking around in a city, you’re not carrying a gun. It doesn’t matter what permit you’ve got, there’s no reason for it, and you’re not carrying a semi-automatic weapon under any circumstance . . .

Could [the gun registry] be run more efficiently, effectively? The Auditor General said there were better ways to run it, and that should be respected and those changes should be made.

FULCRUM: The NDP party has recently taken the position of wanting to remove troops from Afghanistan within the next six months. How has the response been — is it what you expected?

LAYTON: I’ve found people have welcomed the freedom now to talk about the option of carving out a new path for and with Afghanistan rather than the one we’re on. I think there was a sense at first that if you even raised a question than you were going to be accused of being unpatriotic and not supporting troops that were being shot.

Some will argue, “Well, you’ve got to beat back these insurgents and then you can establish [society].” No. There are more complex and sophisticated approaches towards conflict resolution than saying simply we’re going to fight until they’re all dead, and then we’ll build a society on what’s left.

Canada’s always played a role that was more sophisticated, but we’re moving to that over-simplified version of good and evil worlds as defined by President Bush.

FULCRUM: Has there been responses similar to the “unpatriotic” term that was thrown around — has that come up?

LAYTON: Oh, of course, all the time — in the House of Commons. It’s a quick and easy putdown, but I felt that . . . many Canadians do agree with us, and frankly, I spent the summer talking to people across the country, so I know the position we’re taking is held by an awful lot of people, especially the people that support our values and approach to global politics.

FULCRUM: What do you think the greatest challenge for young people in Canada is today, and how does the NDP approach helping them in that regard?

LAYTON: For young people who are trying to get an education and prepare themselves to be involved in the economy and raise families — or whatever they decide to do — the cost of post-secondary education is a wall that seems to be rising the closer they get to it.

Students now are graduating — if they’re able to — with such debt that they’re not being given a fair chance to get started, and we believe that a dramatically new approach is needed that takes people away from this constant [cycle] of loans and debt and puts people on a track towards getting financial assistance based on their need.

I’ve [taught] at universities for 30 years and I’ve watched the change that my students had to go through. I barely know any students that have no part-time job, and I know far too many that have three, and they end up taking several more years to finish their education and graduate with enormous debt. That means they’re exhausted throughout and not getting the grades they’d like.

All of this produces a less well-educated population. Well, that’s not smart if we’re looking ahead to a country of only 30 million people in a world of 6 billion people.

FULCRUM: If you could give any advice to university students today, what would it be?

LAYTON: Become involved in an issue that you’re passionate about, because you’ve got the chance – unlike the previous generations – to change the world in very, very important ways. You can do it with the smallest of steps, but if students – young people – around the world take a hold of the future, they can transform it.

Our [the NDP’s] founding leader [Tommy Douglas] was a young man when he was first elected — only 31 — and said, “Courage my friends, it’s never too late to change the world,” and that’s what we believe — that would be my advice. It’s not original, but I believe in it.


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