Analysis: Layton's death weakens NDP for now

Mon Aug 22, 2011 3:12pm EDT
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The death of New Democrat leader Jack Layton weakens a parliamentary opposition that already has little power and will leave Prime Minister Stephen Harper unchallenged, at least for now.

But with four years to go before the next scheduled federal election, the three opposition parties have time to regroup and perhaps form new alliances that could rob the Conservatives of their majority position.

All three face leadership races, and the left-leaning NDP, now dominated by parliamentarians from French-speaking Quebec, will have to decide its own focus, and work out if it stays true to Layton's pro-Canada vision of social spending, higher corporate taxes, a carbon tax and a balanced budget.

"There will be those who will try to persuade you to give up our cause," Layton said in a letter to Canadians written two days before he died and published hours afterward. "But that cause is much bigger than any one leader."

Layton, the NDP's popular and charismatic leader, died of cancer on Monday, less than four months after powering the party from the smallest group in the House of Commons to the official opposition, with 103 of 308 total seats.

But the Conservatives' majority in Parliament gives them a free rein to carry out policy until the next federal election in October 2015. Their focus is on curbing spending to balance the budget, and on an anti-crime agenda.

"It strengthens Harper, because he dominates the political landscape now," University of Toronto political scientist Nelson Wiseman said of the changing political landscape after Layton's death.

In his letter Layton recommended that the NDP choose a new leader as early as possible next year to give time to build a team, renew the party and prepare for an election.   Continued...

<p>New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jack Layton speaks at a news conference in Toronto in this July 25, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Mark Blinch/Files</p>