NDP leader Jack Layton visits Cranbrook

NDP leader Jack Layton (right) and NDP candidate for the next federal election, Mark Shmigelsky, talk with seniors in Cranbrook. - Kerstin Renner
NDP leader Jack Layton (right) and NDP candidate for the next federal election, Mark Shmigelsky, talk with seniors in Cranbrook.
— image credit: Kerstin Renner

Jack Layton, leader of the federal New Democrats, stopped in Cranbrook on Monday as part of his cross-country tour. Layton was in the region to lend his support to Mark Shmigelsky, the newly nominated NDP candidate in the next federal election for the riding of Kootenay-Columbia, and to meet with local residents. The NDP leader started his day off meeting with Cranbrook seniors.

"All across the country, groups of seniors are getting together at their favourite coffee spots, solving the problems of the world," Layton said. That is why Layton chose to have a passionate discussion over a cup of coffee at Hot Shots. What he heard from seniors here, he stated, was unfortunately the same as in any other part of the country, with stories of elderly people living in dire straits.

Layton was shocked to hear from the manager of the food bank that the number of seniors - and especially widows - requiring their assistance is increasing. "They took care of us," Layton stated. "They fed us whenever we were hungry, and now they have to go to the food bank."

Layton said the NDP is suggesting practical solutions to make life more affordable for seniors. One improvement would be removing the federal sales tax from heating costs so people will not have to choose between buying food and heating their homes this winter. Layton is also in favor of strengthening the Canadian Pension Plan, an investment that in his eyes is "rock-solid".

Other improvements Layton suggested to make Canadian's everyday lives easier were to bring back financial incentives to enable people to fix their homes as well as attract more physicians to ensure every family can have access to a family doctor.

Federal issues

As far as some of the broader issues in society were concerned, Layton explained his party was taking a different approach to the Conservatives. Using the long gun registry as an example, Layton said, the NDP would take the legitimate concerns of long gun owners and balance them with the need for safety. "Mr. Harper doesn't want to work things out," Layton accused, "he'd rather fan the flames and keep us divided."

Afghanistan is another are were Layton said his party would change things. "It's time for our military to come home," Layton emphasized. After all, he added, that is what the promise from the Conservative government was. "Canadians don't want to abandon the people of Afghanistan," Layton stressed, "but we want our role as peacekeepers to come forward." Obviously, Layton stated, what we are doing now is not working.

When the next election will be called, Layton felt, was largely up to the approach the current Conservative government was taking towards resolving some of our society's issues. In any case, he added, the NDP is prepared, especially in Kootenay-Columbia.

Looking forward

"I'm extremely optimistic about our chances in this riding," Layton said. "I feel honoured that Mark has decided to put his name forward and be our candidate." Having already served his community as mayor, Layton stated, gives Mark Shmigelsky experience and makes him a candidate people can trust.

"It's a great way to kick off my campaign - whether it's been called or not," Shmigelsky said about Layton's visit. Now it will be up to him and his team to continue the outreach and find out about the issues in the riding. "A lot of people are struggling and are looking for a voice," Shmigelsky stated. "That's what we'll be."

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