Gains may make NDP fulcrum of power
James Gordon
CanWest News Service
Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Toronto -- The NDP appeared to be on the verge of holding the balance of power in a Conservative minority Parliament Monday, boosted by election night gains in Ontario and B.C.

While on the surface the results point to a dysfunctional House of Commons controlled by Canada's left and right-leaning parties, communications director Brad Lavigne said the NDP intended to make it work.

"Jack Layton is committed to, and our caucus is committed to, getting results in this Parliament," he said at NDP headquarters on Toronto's waterfront. "We don't want another election. We've just had two in two years, and we're going to try to get as much done as possible."

He warned, however, that Layton would stick to his guns on the four "bottom lines" he laid out in the final days of the campaign.

The NDP leader promised to fight vigorously against any prime minister who permits the growth of two-tier health care, environmental degradation and attacks on civil rights, and vowed he wouldn't allow Canada to take part in "foreign military adventures in lockstep with U.S. President George W. Bush."

The NDP didn't come close to its highest-ever seat total of 43, but the party appeared pleased with the results. It ran a tight, polished campaign that never strayed from its key messages, targeting key ridings it held or narrowly lost last election.

At press time, it was leading or elected in 30 ridings, and boosted its popular vote from 15.7 per cent to a little more than 17. The party was pleased with gains in Ontario, where it went from seven to 12 seats.

It succeeded in getting a few soldiers over the wall of Liberal fortress Toronto, as trade unionist Peggy Nash was elected alongside Leader Jack Layton. Layton's wife, ex-city councillor Olivia Chow, finally pinned down Trinity-Spadina after losing twice before.

One of the NDP's star candidates, Paul Summerville, went down in St. Paul's, losing a tough race to Liberal Carolyn Bennett and former Global Television anchor Peter Kent.

The party was able to hold onto the Ottawa Centre seat vacated by party icon Ed Broadbent. While Liberal insider Richard Mahoney had a strong showing in 2004, it was teacher Paul Dewar -- the son of a former Ottawa mayor -- who came out on top.

It also swept through Hamilton, where Wayne Marston unseated Liberal House Leader Tony Valeri in a tight race. Valeri had been dogged throughout the campaign by a controversial land deal involving a prominent Liberal fundraiser.

Another new face in NDP caucus will be be businesswoman Chris Charlton, while residents of Hamilton Centre re-elected MP David Christopherson.

Down the road in Windsor, both Joe Comartin and Brian Massey were re-elected. Voters returned Charlie Angus, who rose to prominence for bringing attention to decrepit living conditions on the Kashechewan reserve, and Sault Ste. Marie's Tony Martin to Parliament as well.

Strategists believed the party was poised to take up to three seats in Saskatchewan, which were narrowly lost to the Tories last election. Instead, they were completely shut out.

There was no breakthrough in Atlantic Canada either, but the NDP held onto all three of its seats. Former party leader Alexa McDonough won in Halifax, while popular incumbent Peter Stoffer cruised to victory in the Nova Scotia riding of Sackville-Eastern Shore.

Lawyer Peter Mancini's attempt to recapture the Dartmouth-Cole Harbour seat the New Democrats lost when their incumbent retired before the 2004 election fell just short, however.

While there was little expectation of improvement in Newfoundland and Labrador, there were high hopes bus driver-turned union official Rodolphe Martin could join Acadie-Bathurst incumbent Yvon Godin in Ottawa. He finished a distant third.

Karl Belanger, press secretary to leader Jack Layton, said he wasn't surprised by the showing.

"There's only one or two changes in the whole four provinces, and there's a bit of changes in terms of popular vote," he said. "But we basically held our own, so we have to be happy about that."

While Layton made a handful of stops in Nova Scotia and addressed rallies via conference call in New Brunswick when the weather turned sour, it's clear his priorities were elsewhere.

The campaign targeted ridings where it held seats, or narrowly lost in the last election. The majority were in B.C. and Saskatchewan, with the others sprinkled across Manitoba and Ontario.

Still, Belanger said he didn't think that had any effect on the results. "There was a bit of room for improvement and we had strong campaigns on the ground."

© CanWest News Service 2006