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Think Before Speaking

Gone are the days when Jack Layton could rush up to anyone with a microphone and shoot from the lip. Now that he's the Opposition leader, every word will be evaluated for its impact on the whole country.

Nova Scotia NDP Premier Darrell Dexter recently offered Jack Layton some friendly advice, namely dial down the volume.

This is pretty solid advice which is based on Dexter's own transition from third party status into the role of Official Opposition. Hopefully Jack will consider the source and the wisdom of following this advice.

It's perfectly normal for opposition parties to criticize the government. Let's face it: that is what they do. As the third party, the NDP could constantly attack, but rarely had to explain their solutions. Since May 2 that has changed and they have to grow up in a hurry. Gone are the days when Layton could rush up to anyone with a microphone and shoot from the lip. Having reached Official Opposition status in Canada, the NDP (and that includes Layton) will now have to justify and explain their comments.

Building on Premier Dexter's advice to Layton, I would also offer the following.

Think before speaking. Now that Layton is the leader of the Official Opposition, every word and opinion he offers will be scrutinized by the media and voters. Every comment will be evaluated for its impact on the whole country, not just the local area that he might be visiting. Comments made to associations, mayors or companies will all be viewed in a national context and he must be prepared to defend his comments.

For example to attack Harper for not visiting the Quebec flood zone and for not having troops stay behind to help with the clean up suggests that the NDP wants a new national policy. If they do, have they thought this through? Is the NDP now suggesting that the prime minister must visit every zone that floods every year? Who are they suggesting pays for the extra work the troops would do? Have they calculated the costs per year not just for this year, but for every year that there are floods across the nation? What about provincial jurisdiction? All of these answers should have been at his finger tips before he made a comment to the media. The NDP leader can no longer fly by the seat of his pants on national policy issues.

Layton must also be prepared to answer tough questions on previous positions adopted by the NDP. He can't keep ducking them as to do so will force the media to go around him. For example, refusing to adequately answer if his present caucus supports the Clarity Act will simply encourage the media to go and ask each individual NDP MP for their opinion. That is a quick route to a communications nightmare for the NDP.

The same holds true for Layton's Deputy Leader Thomas Mulcair. As a former member of Premier Charest's cabinet, where does he stand on the Clarity Act and 50 per cent plus one? Does Mulcair support keeping the names of sovereigntist NDP MPs secret and why? Just where does Mulcair stand on the role of the Supreme Court of Canada in interpreting a referendum result?

If the NDP is waffling on the Clarity Act, other parties will quickly go on the offense. Stephane Dion's attacks on the NDP position being one example. To his credit, Dion has been unrelenting in his criticism and he has exposed significant weaknesses in the NDP position. If the NDP don't support the present Clarity Act, then what amendments are they proposing?

The NDP has now elected MPs from the predominantly English speaking areas of Montreal. While the party endorses broadening the language provisions of Quebec's Bill 101, where do their West Island MPs stand on this issue?

With the NDP there are lots of questions and few answers. If they can't firm up their positions on key issues, the media will find their weaknesses and expose them. The NDP should hold the government to account, but it's crucial that both Layton and his MPs think before going public.

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