NDP has low expectations for coming federal budget: Layton

James Cowan, National Post  Published: Tuesday, December 16, 2008

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Jack Layton outlined his demands for Stephen Harper's upcoming budget.Brett Gundlock/National PostJack Layton outlined his demands for Stephen Harper's upcoming budget.

TORONTO • The federal budget must offer affordable housing and childcare programs alongside support for lagging industries in order to receive the NDP's support, Jack Layton said on Tuesday.

Following a lunchtime meeting with members of the United Steelworkers at a luxury hotel, Mr. Layton told reporters that it is unlikely his party will support the budget presented by Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister, and his Conservative government on Jan. 27.

"One must always leave one's mind open to the possibility of miracles, but I don't think it's going to happen with Mr. Harper," Mr. Layton said. "We have not been able to develop confidence in Mr. Harper to deliver, because he doesn't really believe in the direction we're suggesting."

Mr. Layton earlier this month signed an agreement with Stéphane Dion, the Liberal leader at the time, and Giles Duceppe, leader of the Bloc Québécois, aimed at replacing Mr. Harper's minority government with a Liberal-NDP coalition.

Michael Ignatieff last week replaced Mr. Dion as Liberal leader and has so far declined to delineate what his party wants the budget to contain or under what conditions he would be willing to abandon plans to topple Mr. Harper's government with a non-confidence vote.

While Mr. Ignatieff has been circumspect in his pronouncements, his coalition partner was blunt in calling for new spending, including a national affordable housing program, money for childcare, transit funding and support for the struggling forestry and automotive sectors.

"We need to see a major stimulus package," Mr. Layton said, adding later, "It's a crisis we're facing and we need bold, significant action."

During the last election campaign, the NDP demanded the federal government abandon $50-billion in proposed business tax cuts. Despite his previous vehement objections to the cuts, Mr. Layton said his party has tempered its position because the Liberals support the tax reductions.

"In working in a coalition, you have to strike an agreement . . . we've put those disagreements aside. Frankly, what we need is something much bigger than that," he said.

While there have been suggestions Mr. Ignatieff is a strong supporter of the coalition, Mr. Layton said it remains a viable alternative to the Conservative government. "The coalition continues as a very significant presence in the debate that's taking place right now," he said.

Messrs. Ignatieff and Layton have so far had one brief telephone conversation, the NDP leader said.

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