Fate of federal budget in hands NDP

Wed Mar 2, 2011 3:02pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - If the Conservative government wants to hang on to power when it presents its budget on March 22 it will need the support of a small opposition party with which it shares almost no common ground.

The Conservatives do not have enough seats in the House of Commons to pass the budget by themselves and need the backing of one of the three opposition parties. If all three vote against the budget, the government will fall and Canadians will head for an election in early May.

This leaves the government's fate in the hands of the New Democrats, the only party that has not already said it will reject the budget.

Leader Jack Layton says Canadians want Parliament to work and is pressing the government to commit to a series of measures to help seniors, cut home heating costs and hire more doctors.

Layton, whose party favors more social programs and higher corporate taxes, often attacks the tax-cutting tough-on-crime Conservatives and is an odd political partner for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

But two crucial factors are at play: Layton's health, and whether the New Democrats can shrug off polls showing the party would lose seats in an election.

The energetic 60-year-old is under treatment for prostate cancer and recently suffered a hairline fracture of the hip, which means he is walking on crutches. Aides insist this would not overly hinder his traditionally hard-driving style of campaigning, which often involves a string of 16-hour days.

"Mr. Layton is doing well ... He is ready to campaign whenever the election may come," said spokesman Karl Belanger.   Continued...

<p>New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa March 1, 2011. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>