Canadian Conservative MP Rob Anders apologized after suggesting current NDP leader Thomas Mulcair hastened former leader Jack Layton's death last year. The statement drew immediate reaction from Prime Minister Harper's office, Mulcair, and Layton's widow.
Anders' comments were made in an interview given to iPolitics and published yesterday. Anders told the publication Mulcair put pressure on Layton to work hard during the 2011 federal election campaign or step aside. The former leader, who was suffering from cancer, did campaign hard and for the first time in the party's history, the NDP finished in second place and became the Official Opposition.
The Globe and Mail reports that after the interview was published, Andrew Macdougall, a spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office tweeted, "To be clear, Mr. Anders's comments regarding Jack Layton in no way represents the views of [Prime Minister Stephen Harper] or the Government."
And Karl Belanger, a spokesman for Mulcair, wrote, "As someone who worked closely with both Mr. Layton and Mr. Mulcair, I cannot comprehend how anyone could say something like that."
After criticism was hurled at Anders, some critics suggesting he be expelled from the Conservative caucus, the veteran MP issued an apology. As reported by the Vancouver Sun, the apology read, "My comments in iPolitics with respect to Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Layton were insensitive and inconsiderate. I apologize to Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Layton's family."
In the iPolitics interview, after saying that journalists missed the big story of the 2011 election; that Mulcair put pressure on the ailing Layton to work hard or step aside, Anders said, 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 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.
Layton passed away on Aug. 22, 2011, less than four months after the May 2 election and Mulcair went on to become the leader of the NDP.
As CBC reports, Anders has been controversial in the past during his 15 years as a member of the Reform Party, Canadian Alliance, and now the Conservative Party of Canada. In 2001 he was the only MP to vote against Canada awarding honorary citizenship to Nelson Mandela, referring to the former South African leader as a "terrorist."
In November 2011, cameras caught Anders sleeping in the House of Commons. And last spring he was kicked off the Veteran's Affairs committee after falling asleep during presentations about homeless veterans. When some of the witnesses complained, he called them "NDP hacks" who praised Vladimir Putin.
Ontario NDP MP Olivia Chow, Layton's widow, spoke to reporters outside the House of Commons. After saying conspiracy theories are a waste of time, she is quoted by CTV News as saying, "Let's move forward, let's work for a cure for cancer, let's work together for a better country."
Chow suggested Anders may want to consider sponsoring her in an upcoming charity run for Prostate Cancer Canada.