Canada minority party leader eyes gamble on PM

Mon Sep 14, 2009 2:45pm EDT
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Jack Layton, leader of Canada's left-leaning opposition New Democrats, has suddenly dropped his relentless criticism of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and is mulling some kind of deal to keep his right-wing rival in power.

Monday's developments came as a surprise, but fit in with Layton's vision of his minority party as a pragmatic grouping that can work with other parties to further its own agenda.

It also reflects opinion polls that show that if an election were held now, Layton's party would lose some of the seats it picked up in the October 2008 national vote.

The possibility of an election sprang up earlier this month when the Liberals, the biggest opposition party, announced they can no longer support the government. The third opposition party, the Quebec-based, separatist Bloc Quebecois, seems unlikely to. If the government falls, it would trigger Canada's fourth election in little over five years.

Layton, a former deputy mayor of Toronto, is fond of reminding his audiences that the New Democrats supported the former minority Liberal government in 2005 in return for a mini-budget that promised billions extra in social spending measures.

The Liberals at least share the same centrist-left slice of the voter spectrum as the New Democrats.

But Layton now seems ready to try to do a deal with a right-wing prime minister who regularly dismisses the New Democrats as "socialists".

Indeed, in late August Layton said a deal with the ruling Conservatives would be unlikely "because we have very fundamental differences with the direction that they're taking the country".

If Layton can persuade voters that this change in stance is principled, it will be another success in his long journey to turn the New Democrats from an also-ran party into a more serious political player.   Continued...

<p>New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton responds to questions about the possibility of federal fall election during a news conference at the Delta Barrington hotel in Halifax, Nova Scotia, September 3, 2009. REUTERS/Paul Darrow</p>