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OTTAWA (Reuters) - The opposition leader who will decide whether the government is defeated over its budget this month has to have hip surgery, but will be ready to take part in an election campaign if necessary, an aide said on Thursday.
Jack Layton, who leads the left-leaning New Democrats, will have surgery to repair a fractured hip on Friday and doctors say he will have recovered by the time the budget is presented on March 22, said spokeswoman Kathleen Monk.
The New Democrats are the only one of Canada's three opposition parties not to have said they will vote against the budget. The minority Conservative government needs the backing of one opposition party to pass the budget.
If all three parties vote against the government, it will fall and an election campaign will start immediately. Polls show the right-of-center Conservatives would retain power if an election were held now.
Layton, 60, is also under treatment for prostate cancer and Monk tried to quell speculation that the surgery would make it harder for him to survive a five-week campaign.
"This doesn't cast any doubt at all on his ability to campaign," she told Reuters.
The New Democrats say they are prepared to vote for the budget if the government boosts help for seniors, adds more family doctors and removes the federal sales tax on heating fuel. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says he is happy to talk to opposition parties but has made no promises.
Reporting by David Ljunggren