The days between the dropping of the writ and the election are precious. This is the only time the politicians pay serious attention to what Canadians think.

The great issue on which Canada’s famous "elite consensus" has shut out debate has been the Canadian military mission in Afghanistan. The mainstream media provide few opportunities to those who believe the mission should be ended. In Parliament, the Conservatives and the Liberals made an unsavoury deal to extend the mission to 2011. Only the NDP, as it resolved at its 2006 national convention, has said clearly that Canada should bring the troops home from Kandahar.

Jack Layton showed courage on the issue and took a lot of abuse for it. Remember "Taliban Jack."

In recent months, Canadians have moved en masse on the issue–over fifty-five per cent want the troops brought home and two thirds believe the mission has failed. The people have rejected the elite consensus on Afghanistan. Now they need leadership. Jack Layton made the point when he launched his campaign that he intends to offer Canadians fundamental change to open their eyes to the benefits of an NDP government. To make this real, he needs to go where none of the other leaders is prepared to go on Afghanistan. He should say that an NDP government will bring the troops home. He should say that he will raise the issue of the war every day from now to October 14.

Ninety-six Canadian soldiers have died in this dirty war, proportionally the highest toll for any NATO country. Canadians have figured out that this war is not about human rights and the installation of democracy and the rule of law in Afghanistan. They know that in its treatment of prisoners of war, its links to the heroin trade, and its ties with warlords, the regime in Kabul is not worth the life of one more young Canadian.

This can be Layton’s hour. The war can be his defining issue.