OTTAWA – Conservatives were left cringing once again over the ramblings of caucus colleague Rob Anders, this time over his suggestion that an ambitious NDP Leader Tom Mulcair helped hasten the death of predecessor Jack Layton.
Anders swiftly sent a written apology Monday for his bald comments, and Layton’s widow Olivia Chow said she accepted it.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office was quick to distance itself from the remarks, saying they didn’t reflect the views of Harper or the government.
“To be clear, Mr. Anders’ comments regarding Jack Layton in no way represent the views of (at)pmharper or the government,” tweeted Andrew MacDougall, Harper’s director of communications.
But some in the NDP caucus felt the prime minister should do more.
“If I was Mr. Harper, he would be gone out of the Conservative party in a heartbeat,” said Nova Scotia MP Peter Stoffer. “With that kind of attitude, and that kind of comment, that is a disgrace, not only to Mr. Mulcair but to the legacy of Mr. Layton and think of how Olivia Chow must feel.
“That’s just absolutely cold-hearted.”
Said Manitoba MP Pat Martin: “I always used to wonder whether there was anything rattling around between that guy’s ears and I guess now we know and it’s not pretty.”
Anders told the political news website iPolitics that Mulcair essentially goaded his predecessor into risking his health during the 2011 election campaign.
Anders says Mulcair argued before the campaign that Layton should step aside because of his health.
He says this “arm-twisting” compelled Layton to “put his life at risk” in a hard-fought election campaign, when otherwise he might have been more heedful of his health.
“I actually think one of the great stories that was missed by journalists was that Mr. Mulcair, with his arm twisted behind the scenes, helped to hasten Jack Layton’s death,” Anders is quoted by iPolitics as saying.
“It was very clear to me watching the two of those gentlemen in the front benches, that Jack Layton was ill and that Mr. Mulcair was making it quite obvious that if Jack wasn’t well enough to fight the campaign and fight the election that he should step aside, and that because of that, Mr. Layton put his life at risk to go into the national election, and fight it, and did obviously an amazing job considering his state of health, and that he did that partly because of the arm-twisting behind the scenes by Mulcair and then subsequently died.”
A few hours after the quotes appeared online, Anders issued a statement apologizing to both Mulcair and Layton’s family and describing the remarks as “insensitive and inconsiderate.”
Chow calmly addressed reporters soon afterward, saying she’d like everyone just to move on. She encouraged Anders to sponsor her on a prostate cancer run later this month.
“There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to make Jack live longer,” Chow said. “Cancer is unpredictable, it is vicious and it kills. Let’s put aside the theories and let’s work for a cure to cancer.
“Unity and loyalty are in the DNA of the New Democrats. Like all the other NDP members of Parliament, Tom Mulcair loved Jack. We’d rather put all our energy into fighting for a better world, a better Canada and not stab each other in the back.”
Speaking to media, Liberal leader Bob Rae said there was no question Anders’ comments crossed a line.
“If there’s ever a line, to accuse another member of somehow hastening the death of a leader of a party, it’s just, it’s beyond explanation,” he said. “A simple apology won’t do … I don’t understand how that kind of stuff can come out of somebody’s mouth.”
Conservative MPs entering the Commons for question period Monday refused to comment on Anders.
This wasn’t the first time Anders has embarrassed the government. Unlike other members of the Conservative caucus, Anders has not shied away from expressing his views on a number of issues.
Anders opposed honorary Canadian citizenship for Nelson Mandela, labelling him a communist and a terrorist.
He is vitriolic in his dislike of China. He once compared the 2008 Beijing Olympics to the 1936 Berlin Games.
Earlier this year, Anders was dropped from the Commons veterans affairs committee after he lashed out against a veterans support group which had criticized him. Anders had fallen asleep during a committee meeting in Halifax. He later apologized for the suggestions that his critics were NDP “hacks.”
It was not the first time Anders’ sleepiness attracted ridicule. A video of the MP dozing in the Commons just over a year ago went viral. He blamed the snooze on the aftermath of a car accident.
Anders was first elected in 1997 and despite his outspoken habits, has been re-elected five times, winning with huge margins each time.