Dear Jack: Do you really want this war?

Open Letter to Jack Layton, federal leader of the NDP • Everywhere I go they are burying Canadian soldiers. Walking down Donlands Avenue December 12, there were the cameras and the men in uniform – waiting outside the Metamorphosis Greek Orthodox Church for the funeral of Private Demetrios Diplaros, killed in Afghanistan the week before.[1] Back at work in Peterborough, preparations were underway at Calvary Church for the funeral of Private Michael Freeman, killed in Afghanistan.[2] But this is the war that you say you want to inherit.

Your only Quebec MP, Thomas Mulcair has told the press, “the NDP is putting aside its differences that have existed historically with the Liberals on such issues as Afghanistan.”[3] And Jack, your coalition government – if it gets its way – will stay in office till 2011. Will there be another 100 Canadians killed on its watch? Another 200? And how many thousands of Afghanis?

Knowing that the NDP was calling for an immediate troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, was an enormous boost of confidence for thousands. Your actions have completely betrayed those thousands.

Last election, young people – the young people I see every day as a teacher, the young people that you and I both saw when we were both teachers at Ryerson University – just didn’t care about a choice between Harper, Dion or yourself. They didn’t see themselves in any of the parties. But I was able to tell them – in good conscience – that there was a big difference between your party and the others. Your party was committed to bringing the troops home – the troops sent to war by the Liberals, and dying in increasing numbers under the Conservatives. That argument worked. Young people hate this war. So when they were told that there was one party calling for an end to the war, they voted for you.

You have now lost their vote. You have sent them the message that principles like stopping a murderous, barbaric war are not as important – as what? What exactly did you get from your deal with the Liberals? Afghanistan is on the shelf. Taxing the corporations is on the shelf. The only thing you seem to have “won” is the promise of six cabinet seats. A religious man who greatly influenced me – an anti-war minister of the United Church – would have known what to call this – a mess of pottage. Look it up.

The coalition gambit was a top-down bureaucratic, back-room deal – and has been perceived as such by millions of ordinary Canadians who are recoiling in horror. The terrible effect of this backroom coalition adventure has been to bring Stephen Harper back from the dead – he’s soaring in the polls – and to accelerate the arrival of Michael Ignatieff as head of the Liberals – the same Michael Ignatieff who supported George W. Bush’s war on Iraq. Do you really want to sit at the cabinet table with Michael Ignatieff in the chair?

The war has come home, Jack. That funeral on Donlands was in your riding in Toronto, the riding that has time and again come out to the polls and sent you to Ottawa. If you say “troops out now” you have something to say to those folks. If you say “we’ll talk about it in 2011,” you have nothing to say that is any different from the Harper Tories.

Whatever. The movement goes on without you. We’ll be demonstrating April 4 in Toronto and in dozens of other cities chanting “troops out now!” You’re welcome to join us. There will be thousands of other NDP members there with us. But don’t expect a very warm welcome. On those marches, being against the war is a principle, not a bargaining chip.

© 2009 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] “A hero’s farewell,” Toronto Sun, December 12, 2008
[2] “Holidays delay Peterborough soldier’s funeral,” thestar.com, January 2, 2009
[3] Murray Brewster, “NDP will not oppose Afghan war while in coalition,” Canadian Press, December 3, 2008