May 11, 2011 / 10:14 PM / in 6 years

Jack Layton hopes for budget changes

<p>Leader of the NDP Jack Layton speaks at the 2011 Canadian Labour Congress convention in Vancouver, British Columbia May 11, 2011. REUTERS/Ben Nelms</p>

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton dismissed suggestions on Wednesday he has ended up politically weaker despite being vaulted into the role of opposition leader in last week’s Canadian election

Layton said he hope the Conservative government will still be open to changes in the upcoming federal budget, despite now having enough seats in Parliament to pass it without needing at least some opposition support.

The Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who won only minority governments in the 2006 and 2008 elections, took 167 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons on May 2, with 40 percent of the popular vote.

“Yes, he may have a majority of seats, but he is facing the largest and most unified opposition in 31 years,” Layton told the Canadian Labor Congress convention in Vancouver in his first public address since the vote.

The NDP is strongly linked to organized labor and Layton was greeted like a conquering hero following the party’s best-ever showing in a federal election. It finished second with 102 seats and replaced the Liberals as the main opposition party. The Liberals fell to third, taking only 34 seats.

The Conservatives said during the campaign they expect to introduce the same budget they had proposed before the campaign began. That budget was never voted on before the government fell on other issues.

The Conservatives had courted the NDP in preparing the pre-election budget, but failed to win their support.

“(Harper) needs to recognize that 60 percent of Canadians did not support his party. They wanted to see a new direction. So I would hope that he does not come back with exactly the same proposition,” Layton told reporters.

Layton wants the budget to include improvements to Canada’s public pension system, echoing a demand he had made before, but one the Conservatives have rejected as too costly.

The NDP’s election gains were strongest in Quebec where it swamped the separatist Bloc Quebecois, which fell to a rump of just 4 seats.

But the NDP’s Quebec success has also been criticized because four of its lawmakers elected there are still in college and one does not speak French, the province’s majority language.

Layton said it was “ridiculous” for political pundits to criticize the youthfulness of his legislators after complaining for years that not enough young people were voting.

Reporting Allan Dowd; editing by Rob Wilson

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