TORONTO (CUP) – Wearing buttons, making demands and singing songs; these are just the tip of the iceberg of participatory democracy, according to Jack Layton. Layton, the leader of the federal New Democratic Party (NDP), spoke at Ryerson University March 24 on “Making Politics Matter.”
Of course, it was no surprise that the politics that matter to Layton happen to be priority issues on the NDP agenda.
Stopping the war with Iraq, investing in the environment and empowering the grassroots movement for social justice in Canadian politics, are just a few of his issues. Layton threaded them together throughout his lecture with the expertise of someone who has been practicing social advocacy politics for more than 30 years.
Two months after being elected as the federal NDP leader, with a campaign slogan of “New energy, new leadership,” Layton is living proof of his slogan – his energy is harnessed into social justice.
Layton encouraged those standing at the back of the Olive Baker Lounge to fill in the few empty seats at the front of the room.
“Not that we mind standing room only,” he joked.
Layton chastised the U.S. for the recent invasion of Iraq. He called the war absurd, a “fundamental abandonment of international law,” and likened the bombing of Baghdad to bombing Toronto City Hall.
He criticized the U.S.-led invasion by questioning the legality of George W. Bush’s presidential decree, which gives the U.S. power to attack countries harbouring terrorists.
He condemned Bush’s philosophy of dialectical thinking -the idea that one is either for or against the war, with no choices in between.
“It’s a philosophy that says: ‘Don’t cross us or we’ll attack you.’ It’s a terrible world [to be] left to reside in the hands of one man, one government,” he said.
However, Layton said he sees the opportunity in building the opposing side – one that supports peace as “the new superpower.”
In addition to establishing a peace movement, Layton proposed environmentally-friendly ways of harvesting energy, such as the urban wind turbine.
Although the concept of harvesting wind for energy is admittedly radical and very expensive, Layton says he believes that looking for renewable energy resources is the way of the future. In 1991, he founded a sustainable policy and program design firm called the Green Catalyst Group Inc.
Layton shares a special link with Ryerson’s past; his history with the school can be traced back to 1974, when he became a tenured professor with the department of politics at Ryerson.
At one point he was acquainted with Olive Baker, after whom the Olive Baker Lounge was named.
“I got to know Olive Baker quite well. She was accessible and much loved,” said Layton, quipping that, “I’m fond of anyone with a name like Olive … Olivia Chow (Layton’s wife).”
After the lecture, Layton fielded questions from the audience.
Audience-member Norman Otis Richmond, questioned Layton on the NDP’s position on racial profiling.
“All of the NDP candidates spoke against it,” answered Layton, before he made links to other forms of racial oppression like the changes to immigration legislation under the guise of anti-terrorism laws.
“This is simply wrong and our government has just rolled over to play a part of it,” he said.