Layton revels in role of election wildcard

Mon May 2, 2011 1:20pm EDT
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By Rod Nickel

KAMLOOPS, British Columbia (Reuters) - For most of his three decades in politics, Jack Layton has been a figure on the fringe. Now he stands poised to pull his pro-worker New Democratic Party into the mainstream.

The bicycle-riding grandfather has used his charisma and a mostly smart campaign to seize an outside shot at power in Monday's federal election, an ambition that once would have been a left-wing fantasy.

At minimum, Layton, whose hip surgery and battle with prostate cancer generated whispers that this campaign would be his last, seems set to become leader of Canada's Official Opposition, if his party gets the second largest number of seats in Parliament after the Conservatives.

That would give him a shot of heading any coalition of opposition parties that could oust the Conservatives, if the ruling party fails to win a majority.

It's a startling resurgence for both the NDP and Layton himself, who pumped the cane he still uses after hip surgery in the air at rallies to punctuate his fighting spirit.

"There's a level of energy in the campaign, of determination," said Layton. "It feels steady and I think we've been able to convey the same messages from the beginning to the end, that Ottawa is not working well."

Layton, a rare western politician to sport a mustache, promises to balance the budget in four years by hiking corporate taxes and raising other revenues to offset C$69 billion ($73 billion) in new spending over four years.

His strong performance in party leaders' debates and overtures to the mostly French-speaking province of Quebec helped the party there, and that appeal has spilled over to other provinces too.   Continued...

<p>New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jack Layton waves with his wife and Trinity-Spadina candidate Olivia Chow (L) from the front porch of their home after casting their Federal Election ballots in Toronto, May 2, 2011. REUTERS/Mark Blinch</p>