Canada's maverick NDP gets support, but also scrutiny

Mon Apr 25, 2011 2:57pm EDT
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Hobbled by hip surgery and recovering from cancer, maverick New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton looked like an early loser in Canada's election campaign.

But Layton's leftist party has surged to parity with the Liberals in recent opinion polls, a rise that will throw new focus on its policy promises, and create long-shot odds that Layton could become Canada's first NDP prime minister.

"The other parties may come after us. I think that Canadians are coming to the conclusion that maybe it's time for something new," Layton told a news conference on Monday in the Atlantic province of New Brunswick.

The NDP, founded in 1961 as a pro-labor party, has governed in several provinces, but never won power nationally.

It started the campaign for the May 2 election a distant third behind the Liberals and the ruling Conservatives, only to gain support as the Liberals faltered and Layton put in strong showings in mid-campaign debates.

The NDP's thinly scrutinized program promises tax breaks for small businesses and for taking on new employees.

The party will boost spending on education, the environment and social programs, and pull Canadian troops out of Afghanistan immediately.

The party says it will fund that new spending with C$34 billion from higher corporate taxes and C$8.6 billion from what it calls a "tax haven crackdown." It will bring in C$21.5 billion over four years from oil companies and other big industrial energy consumers through a cap-and-trade carbon plan, and save C$8 billion by ending fossil-fuel subsidies.   Continued...

<p>NDP Leader Jack Layton speaks to the media following a campaign stop in downtown Montreal April 23, 2011. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi</p>