OTTAWA (Reuters) - The fate of Canada’s minority Conservative government appeared to rest on Tuesday with a left-leaning party that has specialized in winning concessions rather than in winning power.
Jack Layton, leader of the pro-worker New Democratic Party, has not yet said whether he will back the government’s budget later on Tuesday, and hence keep the Conservatives in power.
But he is the only leader to have sat down with Prime Minister Stephen Harper ahead of this budget to present his proposals, and there were signs that at least some of those demands were being met.
“We’re going to look at the total budget. We’re going to measure it up against the suggestions that we made to the government,” he told CBC Television on Tuesday.
Layton, 60, has headed the New Democrats since 2003, winning a reputation as someone prepared to do business even with those who -- like the Conservatives -- stand at the opposite end from him on the Canadian political spectrum.
In 2005, Layton famously wrung C$4.6 billion ($4.7 billion) in social spending from Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin in return for support for the Liberal budget, and in 2009 he helped Harper defeat a Liberal no-confidence motion in return for $1 billion in additional funding for Employment Insurance.
He came close to becoming a federal cabinet minister in December 2008 when he agreed to a deal with the Liberals and the separatist Bloc Quebecois that would have toppled the Harper government and install a Liberal-NDP coalition government.
The deal fell through when the Conservatives suspended Parliament, and managed to stay in power.
This time, Layton has urged the Conservatives to renew a program that gives Canadians credits for making their homes more energy efficient, and to hire more doctors and nurses.
The first demand will make its way into the budget, and there will also be money to entice doctors and nurses into rural areas, a government source said on Monday.
Layton’s health may also factor into his calculations. He is recovering from prostate cancer treatment and hip surgery, and while he says he is getting better every week, he looks pallid and drawn.
Layton entered politics as a city councilor in Toronto, where he was on the left wing of the council of Canada’s largest city. He has a Ph.D in political science and has taught in Canadian universities.
He has long advocated eliminating corporate tax cuts and boosting social spending, and differs from the Liberals and Conservatives in opposing Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan.
Although he has been a strong supporter of measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions, in 2010 he started demanding that the federal government remove the sales tax on home heating fuel.
Born on July 18, 1950, he is married to NDP Member of Parliament Olivia Chow. He has two children and one grandchild.
Editing by Janet Guttsman