June 19, 2011 / 10:20 PM / 6 years ago

New Democrats keep merger door open

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The New Democrat Party kept the door open on Sunday to a possible merger talks with the struggling Liberals, a party they leapfrogged over to become the main opposition in a May 2 election.

<p>NDP leader Jack Layton delivers a keynote speech at the party's 50th Anniversary Convention in Vancouver, British Columbia June 19, 2011. REUTERS/Ben Nelms</p>

But New Democratic leader Jack Layton said the left-leaning party is in no rush to talk to the Liberals, and needs to concentrate on proving to voters it is now ready to replace the Conservatives as government.

New Democrats held a weekend convention in Vancouver following the election that gave the NDP the best showing in its 50-year history. It also boosted the Conservatives into a majority government status at the expense of the Liberals.

Delegates rejected a call by some party members to block the NDP from even discussing a merger with the once powerful Liberals, whose future has been thrown into chaos by its worst-ever election showing.

“There is, of course, no proposition to do that (merger), but the idea of encouraging Liberals to come and join with us, we’re wide open to that,” Layton told reporters.

The idea of a merger has also divided the Liberals, who decided this weekend to delay picking a new permanent leader for up to two years as they discuss how to rebuild the party’s fortunes.

Although the NDP jumped over the Liberals to become the Conservatives’ main opposition, many of its gains came in Quebec at the expense of the separatist Bloc Quebecois that saw its support evaporate in the May election.

Delegates in Vancouver also decided to postpone a vote on whether to drop the NDP’s long-standing use of the word “socialism” from its constitution, a reference that reflects its link with Canada’s union movement.

A Conservative Party official said the debate showed the NDP was divided over how to take advantage of its election success, but Layton dismissed that allegation.

“Some people perhaps feel that the selection of one adjective versus another is a monumental matter ... There was no disagreement on the values, it was about the nature of the label,” he said.

Layton told delegates the NDP needs to use its new stature to push issues such as protecting the public health care system, aid to senior citizens and helping small businesses.

He said the NDP will also have to strengthen its fund-raising abilities. The Conservatives say they will use their new majority status to end the public financing the opposition parties have traditionally relied on.

Reporting Allan Dowd, Editing Chris Wilson

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