Riding high, NDP leader returns to Vancouver Island North to support candidate

Jack Layton was in the Comox Valley earlier in the campaign to support Vancouver Island North NDP candidate Ronna-Rae Leonard. - Erin Haluschak
Jack Layton was in the Comox Valley earlier in the campaign to support Vancouver Island North NDP candidate Ronna-Rae Leonard.
— image credit: Erin Haluschak

NDP leader Jack Layton, in his bid to replace Stephen Harper as prime minister of Canada, says he is humbled but determined by a groundswell of NDP support suggested by the latest popularity polls.

As of Wednesday, an Angus Reid poll showed the New Democrats riding atop all other parties in Quebec — with 38-per-cent support — 11 percentage points ahead of the Bloc Quebecois.

The poll had the NDP at 30-per-cent support, second only to the Conservatives, who were at 35 per cent.

An earlier CTV News/Globe/Nanos poll shows NDP national support at 23.6 per cent, the Liberals at 25.6 per cent and Harper's Conservatives at 39.2 per cent. An Ekos poll has the NDP in second place behind the Tories.

"We're very hopeful, but we know that we have a lot of work to do in these closing days," Layton — who led a rally Friday at a Courtenay secondary school — said Wednesday from Winnipeg. "It's always a tight race, but we have an opportunity to help defeat Stephen Harper and his government, which many people want to do."

He feels the service record of Vancouver Island North NDP candidate Ronna-Rae Leonard, a member of Courtenay council and chair of the Vancouver Island Regional Library Board, will contribute to that process.

"Ronna-Rae will be a voice for the North Island in Ottawa, instead of the other way around — Ottawa's missive to the people of the North Island telling them what's good for them," Layton said in reference to incumbent Conservative MP John Duncan, whom he chastised for voting to impose the harmonized sales tax without consulting the people of B.C.

"We do think that people are realizing they have a choice here. (Liberal leader) Michael Ignatieff's not going to be the answer. He's been part of the problem, supporting Stephen Harper so many times."

Along with Leonard, Layton speaks highly of Nanaimo-Cowichan MP Jean Crowder, Nanaimo-Alberni candidate Zeni Maartman and Victoria MP/deputy speaker Denise Savoie.

"These are high-quality women who really take the job seriously and work hard to take the voice of their constituents and their concerns, and I think people are responding to our practical suggestions."

These include a national housing strategy, a nine- to 11-per-cent small business tax cut and a Post-Secondary Education Act. The latter would ensure college and university education is affordable and of high quality, and kept public and non-profit.

"The level of student debt is so high that many students are having to abandon their studies," Layton said.

Retirement security is also an NDP priority.

"There are a great many seniors who have nothing but the GIS/OAS system," Layton said, noting 250,000 Canadians, mostly women, live below the poverty line. "The banks don't need yet another big tax break so they can give million-dollar bonuses to their top millionaire managers. Seniors need the help, so let's be there for them, and that's a commitment we made that we would take as a top priority in that first 100 days of an NDP administration."

The party wants to double Canada Pension Plan payments in a step-by-step process over several years.

"If we don't start now, we're going to find in a few years, and already this is happening to some people, they can't retire," Layton said. "We want seniors to be able to be comfortable. They've earned the right.

"That's why we are upset with the imposition of the HST, as I know many British Columbians are. There's certainly no way that Mr. Harper should be rewarded for having imposed that kind of a tax."

If the HST is voted down in the coming referendum, the NDP says British Columbians should not have to pay back the $1.6 billion "bribe" offered by the Tories.

"That would mean you'd have to cut education and health services," said Layton, adding the NDP has budgeted the $1.6 billion staying in B.C. in its platform. "It's a question of fairness. I challenge the Conservatives to match our commitment."

From Winnipeg, Layton's campaign trail stopped in Edmonton and Yellowknife en route to the Island. Canadians go to the polls Monday.


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