Editorial: NDP to Play Key Role

Published June 30th 2004 in Toronto Star
Throughout the election campaign, New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton tirelessly crisscrossed the country, urging voters to give him the support he needed to play a central role in the next Parliament.

As the early returns came in Monday, it appeared Canadians had given Layton even more than he asked for — the balance of power in Parliament, ensuring him a great deal of clout over Prime Minister Paul Martin's minority Liberal government.

And so when he took to the podium later that evening to address his supporters, Layton told them how the NDP would hold Martin's feet to the fire to deliver on his promises.

But then he went further, hinting that the Liberals would have to pay a hefty price in return for his support.

Echoing his recent threat to make a national referendum on a controversial new voting system the Number 1 condition for his support of a Liberal minority, Layton said, "We will see how interesting Paul Martin finds the idea of proportional representation."

That's a strange condition from a leader who campaigned on the urgent needs of Canadians because it would put the long-term interests of the New Democratic Party ahead of the people's immediate needs.

As it turns out, the degree of control Layton thought he had evaporated when all the votes were counted.

The final tally showed the NDP to be one seat short of the number needed for Layton to sell the Liberals a guarantee that he would prop them up in power in exchange for a commitment to pursue some kind of proportional representation.

Still, the NDP, which raised its seats by only five, will play a crucial role in the next Parliament. It's the only natural policy ally for the Liberals.

Although Canadians would undoubtedly have taken some comfort from the guaranteed stability of a Liberal-NDP deal, they are probably better off with Layton in a strong and uncompromised position to hold Martin to account.

The public should have every confidence that they will see a new deal for cities, major improvements in health care, a significant investment in affordable housing, a national child care program, and progress on global warming in the next Parliament. That's because logic and necessity both now dictate that Layton channel his energies into pushing Martin hard on all of these fronts.

Yesterday, Layton showed he clearly understood both the potential and the limitations of his situation. Instead of making self-serving demands, he pledged to play a "constructive, positive and innovative" role in working with Martin and the other parties in ensuring a productive Parliament.