TORONTO (Reuters) - The leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party, which won official opposition status in Monday’s federal election, vowed on Tuesday to work with the Conservative government to find common ground.
The left-leaning NDP has governed in several Canadian provinces but had always placed a distant third on the federal scene. On Monday it took 102 out of 308 seats in the House of Commons, up from 37, pushing it into second place ahead of the Liberals.
“We have been given a job to do by Canadians which is to drive home the notion that politics has to be done differently in Ottawa”, said NDP leader Jack Layton, looking gaunt after a recent battle with prostate cancer and hobbled by hip surgery.
“We’ll oppose you when we think you’re wrong, but we’ll work together to try to find areas where we agree,” he said of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who won his first majority after leading two successive minority governments.
Speaking in Toronto, Layton said the NDP would press for more family doctors in Canada, for improving pensions and retirement security for seniors, and for limiting credit card interest rates.
The party had campaigned on a platform of higher corporate taxes, an end to subsidies for the powerful energy sector, and a cap-and-trade system to rein in greenhouse gas emissions. As with the Conservatives and the Liberals, it wants to reign in the federal budget deficit within years.
Thanks to the NDP’s surprise surge toward the end of the five-week campaign, Layton will take the keys to Stornoway, the official residence of the opposition leader.
On his way out of the Ottawa mansion is Michael Ignatieff, who is resigning as Liberal leader after his party failed to take at least runner-up status for the first time in its history.
Layton more than doubled his party’s previous record number of seats but was forced to defend his largely young and untested caucus.
Among the rookies are four students at Montreal’s McGill University, while another attends university in Sherbrooke, Quebec. At 19, he is also the youngest person ever elected to Canada’s Parliament.
“We’ll have a lot of new energy, new blood, new talent and new knowledge coming into the House of Commons and when people vote for change, that’s exactly what they were hoping would happen,” he said, adding that there were also a number of experienced NDPers who would be working with the new members.
Layton also pointed to former federal, and now provincial, NDP politician Bill Blaikie, who was first elected in 1979 at the age of 22, and who served until to 2008, becoming Dean of Parliament.
In its surprise showing, the NDP also took 58 of the 75 seats in Quebec, crushing the separatist Bloc Quebecois, which was reduced to four seats from 49.
As the first federalist party to control a majority of seats in Quebec in years, Layton, who was born and raised in the mostly French-speaking province, promised a “practical, step by step approach” to ensure proper representation in Ottawa.
“Clearly the winds of change were blowing very strongly in Quebec,” he said.
The day after his historic win, Layton, 61, was hardly in a celebratory mood when talking about the next four years.
“Will it take hard work? You’re darn right.”
Editing by Frank McGurty