We might suspect that the entire press corp had taken a decision in committee from the way every major columnist agreed last week that Jack Layton had blown it.
"Over the top" was the consensus. One party leader accusing another of policies that ended in the death of homeless people? Shocking. Not the way we do things in Canada.
But most of what Layton, who has often visited memorials to homeless people who have died on the street, said about Paul Martin's record on affordable housing is absolutely true.
These are the facts. Paul Martin became minister of finance in 1993, and among the government's first cost-cutting actions was the killing of direct federal grants for the construction of new housing cooperatives and the cancellation of a program that since 1986 had provided a federal-provincial partnership for building non-profit housing.
After this wreckage, new social housing starts ceased everywhere but in NDP-governed Ontario.
Defenders of Martin's housing record now stress that the most serious damage to non-profit housing was really done earlier under the Conservatives. True, the Mulroney Tories did chip away at the level of funding for social housing. And so did Pierre Trudeau before them.
In fact, it was all downhill after the housing starts the federal NDP managed to push onto the Libs during the minority government of the early 70s.
Martin's crew keep repeating that their man fought the Mulroney Tories over their cuts to low-income housing. But when the Grits regained power, he conveniently had a change of heart.
With Martin guarding the national treasury, Ontario's NDP government was forced to fund housing starts on its own. When the provincial Tories took over in 1995, Premier Mike Harris was willing to pay substantial compensation fees to companies to stop projects that had been contracted under the Rae government. Had these programs continued, some 54,000 units for low-income families would have been built by 2001.
Martin's people like to say the Liberals have moved to redeem themselves. Yes, in 2001 they offered a program of a billion dollars over five years to build - but only if the provinces matched the funds. In Ontario, the Tories didn't agree to sign on until 2002, just a month before Martin was edged out of the finance ministry.
Conveniently, the Libs charge that it was the provincial Tories who stonewalled on the issue. But some perspective is in order: the feds hold the purse strings and, as their earlier co-op housing initiatives show, they can build on their own if they have the will to.
The fact is that the three-year-old federal-provincial framework has so far produced not one new low-income unit in Ontario. Will it in the future? Will Martin's promise of some $122 million to Ontario really materialize? Of course, if the PM had delayed the election and allowed a normal four-year interval, we would have been able to judge. Right now, all we have are claims and promises.
And that's precisely Layton's point. Martin has a record. He's expressed himself on the affordable housing issue via his hold on the public cheque-book. As prez of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Layton spent much of his time lobbying the powerful pol to reverse the 1993 cuts.
The media, in its one-breath condemnation of Layton, maddeningly ignored not only his long experience with Martin but also the extensive documentation of the relationship between homelessness and death in a coroner's report on the death of Drina Joubert in Toronto in 1986.
The war on the poor may have been launched by Martin and Harris, but the media conglomerates now pillorying Jack Layton are responsible for its continuation.
John Bacher is the author of Keeping To The Marketplace: The Evolution Of Canadian Housing Policy.