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Layton's infertile coup

This Magazine Staff

Why hasn’t there been any outcry from the Conservatives over Jack Layton’s call for the assassination of Stephen Harper last weekend?
At an NDP rally in Edmonton on Saturday, Layton was working the crowd and himself to climax when his rant took a turn to the seditious. “Well,” he said, “I say it’s time to take Stephen Harper to the woodshed!”
The CBC, the Toronto Star and the Vancouver Sun all carried that quote, and there’s no mistaking its intent. In these parts, the woodshed is where one takes an old farm dog to be put down with a rifle, or perhaps the blunt end of a hatchet (if the dog was small enough). Apparently it’s also the place one goes to give or receive a good old ass-whuppin’.
The phrase is sometimes used in joking reference to old folks deemed past their prime. But it’s not common to politics. At least, not in Alberta.
Naturally it is to be assumed Layton was speaking metaphorically about the need to replace Harper’s government – not kill the man outright, or physically beat him senseless. But still… take’em to the woodshed? Them’s fightin’ words!
They sounded surprising over the radio. I’ve met Jack Layton several times, and I’m quite sure he wouldn’t reference woodsheds in his home riding of Toronto-Danforth. There, the schoolyard would be a more apt metaphor for violence.
Maybe that sounds harsh, given Toronto’s rocky record on school violence, but it translates. The woodshed reference was Jack’s folksy attempt at talking tough in Alberta. It came across as a limply veiled threat from a guy who’s not from here but wanted to sound like he could be. And it sounded a bit pathetic, since the NDP have not sent an MP from Alberta to the House of Commons in 20 years.
Nevertheless, Layton has been on the offensive this entire campaign, and the woodshed comment is his attempt to bring the fight to Alberta’s Tory stronghold. So what’s he thinking? That colloquial rhetoric will win votes for Linda Duncan and Ray Martin, the NDP’s two best bets in Alberta?
Probably. And his accusation that the Harper Tories are taking Albertan votes for granted may resonate beyond the NDP faithful to anyone in the province who doesn’t vote Conservative.
But NDP policy in Alberta is a tough sell. Of Layton’s two pushpoints on Saturday – getting tough on crime and slowing oilsands production – only one will wash in Canada’s wealthiest province. Care to guess which?
Here’s a hint (as if you needed it): it’s the one that might have some impact on schoolyards in Cowtown and The Chuk, as well as The Big Smoke.

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