OTTAWA – As the leader of a party that knows a thing or two about the fickle nature of the Canadian electoral system, Jack Layton isn’t taking anything for granted.
After all, he’s a New Democrat.
Layton struck a pragmatic tone today as he wrapped up his latest swing through Quebec, a province that appears to be embracing the NDP after years in the political wilderness.
“We’re used to working very, very hard, and having people come and be interested in our ideas, but then because of our current electoral system we don’t get the number of seats that are warranted by the percentage of vote that we get,” he said in Montreal.
In Canada, 60 per cent of the voters typically choose a party other than the one that forms a government, he added.
“In other words, you’ve lost but you’ve won. This is something that can’t last forever.”
Layton is hoping his party’s recent surge in the polls in Quebec lasts until Monday, when voters mark their ballots. To that end, a new television ad today does something NDP ads rarely do: it encourages Canadians to envision Layton living at 24 Sussex Drive.
The ad features men and women of different ethnicities urging viewers to imagine a leader who listens to their concerns on health care and the economy — two of the biggest issues in the election.
“Imagine a leader … who actually cares,” they say.
With the luxury of momentum, Layton appears to be taking his campaign to the so-called “high road,” hoping to appear prime ministerial and above the fray as election day nears.
And with his Liberal and Conservative rivals taking more direct aim at him than they normally would, Layton is at pains not to take the bait.
“I’m not running for prime minister in order to attack other party leaders,” he said when asked about a recent barrage of Liberal attack ads targeting the NDP.
“I am running — and I’ve been in political life a long time — to attack the issues and the problems that people are facing.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in Asbestos, Que., today, defending Conservative support for a failing industry that exports a known carcinogen to developing countries.
The Tories are a benefactor in Quebec of a strong NDP, which bleeds support from the Bloc Quebecois. So Harper’s hopes for a majority government are riding high — bringing him to the riding of Richmond-Athabaska, a Bloc seat the Tories see as vulnerable.
But Harper’s support for the local asbestos mining industry has come under fierce criticism at home and abroad, as the product is highly restricted in Canada.
The asbestos mine in Thetford Mines currently employs 225 seasonal workers, and the aim is to double the workforce and make it permanent.
The Quebec government of Liberal Jean Charest has promised large loan guarantees to expand the operation.
Canadian taxpayers support the Chrysotile Institute, an asbestos industry lobby group that promotes the use of asbestos worldwide and attempts to soften laws restricting its use.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, whose campaign has been hit hard by NDP support elsewhere in Canada, is campaigning in Vancouver and Winnipeg today.
But the Liberals opened a front in Quebec as well, with a series of French-only television ads in which Ignatieff talks about the province’s place in Canada, the “knowledge economy” and his “vision of Canadian democracy.”
The party says the ads were filmed without scripts, an attempt to capitalize on Ignatieff’s impressive off-the-cuff performances in town-hall style campaign events.