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NDP Leader Jack Layton addresses supporters at the Art Gallery of Alberta on the first night of the campaign. (Gloria Galloway for The Globe and Mail)
NDP Leader Jack Layton addresses supporters at the Art Gallery of Alberta on the first night of the campaign. (Gloria Galloway for The Globe and Mail)

NDP campaign

Layton's call: 'Kick every Conservative MP out of Edmonton' Add to ...

Jack Layton likes to start election campaigns with brash moves.

In 2008, his first stop was Stephen Harper's own riding of Calgary Southwest.

This time he met with supporters in Edmonton Centre where Conservative Laurie Hawn beat the Liberal candidate by 10,000 votes in the last election and the NDP was a distant third.

On the campaign trail

But Mr. Layton and his team say they can build on the success they found in Edmonton-Strathcona where their candidate, Linda Duncan, a well-known local environmentalist beat long-time Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer two and a half years ago.

In truth, the party may have some trouble holding on to Ms. Duncan's seat, let alone expanding into the Conservative-friendly ground of neighbouring ridings.

Ms. Duncan won by just a slim margin the last time around. The Tories were stung by the 2008 loss of a seat in Alberta and they will be pumping many resources into the task of winning it back.

But Mr. Layton, who uncharacteristically has decided not to hold a news conference on the first day of the campaign, was all bravado at a rally at the Art Gallery of Alberta on Saturday night.

"You came together under the New Democrat banner and sent a message, heard across Canada, that you won't be taken for granted," he told the crowd..

"In the last two-and-a-half years, Linda Duncan has fought for Edmonton families, fought for this city and fought for Alberta. She has done an outstanding job. Now, in this election, I'm not asking Edmonton to just re-elect Linda Duncan. I'm asking you to come together and kick every Conservative MP out of Edmonton."

It's a tall order.

But the New Democrats who, for the second election in a row say they will spend the maximum allowed under Election Canada rules, have put money into radio ads specifically crafted to reach voters in this city.

"Are you guys fed up with Stephen Harper?" asks a male voice in one of the spots. "Are you tired of Edmonton being taken for granted?"

The ad attempts to make a villain of the Conservative Leader. But its targets are the Liberals who once voted in large numbers for Anne McLellan.

"Because here in Edmonton, everybody knows, only New Democrats defeat Conservatives," said Mr. Layton.

Mr. Layton's speech touched on many of the same themes as his address in Ottawa earlier in the day, but in this city that is economically dependent on the oil patch, he dropped his promise to "stop the subsidies to the big polluters and invest that money to foster the new energy economy."

Earlier Saturday, Mr. Layton repeated his 2008 election mantra that he's running to be Prime Minister, but he added that this time he is also promising to fix what is broken in Ottawa if Canadians give his New Democrats a mandate.

Speaking to a crowd of about 150 young supporters at the posh Chateau Laurier Hotel before embarking for Western Canada, Mr. Layton said Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has failed in his promise to make life better for Canadians.

"I am asking Canadians to join me to defeat Stephen Harper," Mr. Layton said to wild applause. "This time, it's not enough to keep Stephen Harper from his majority. This time, we have to replace him."

It's a tough pitch from the leader of the party that held just 36 seats at the dissolution of Parliament. But, if Liberal support completely crumbles and left-leaning voters flee to the NDP, some have suggested the New Democrats could form the official opposition.

That would take a seismic shift in the political landscape.

Playing to a public he believes is still hurting from the recent economic downturn, Mr. Layton said Canadians are working harder than ever, their debt is at an all-time high and their retirement is less secure.

"What does all this mean?" he asked. "Ottawa is broken. And it's time for us to fix it."

In this election, he said "you can elect a Prime Minister you can count on.... I'm running to be that Prime Minister."

The NDP Leader said he will spend the election putting forward "concrete proposals" to take the strain off working families, seniors and children living in poverty. And he said he will reward companies that create jobs in Canada.

"I will help those who have been completely left behind by Mr. Harper," he promised. "I will focus on families that are simultaneously caring for their aging parents and working to build a future for their children."

New Democrats would strengthen pensions and retirement savings plans, he said. And, if he forms government, he said he would focus on fixing what is wrong with health care.

While much of the NDP Leader's speech was devoted to challenging Mr. Harper, he also took a shot at Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. Both men are going after the same types of voters.

"If you've voted Liberal before but have some doubt about the latest leader, Michael Ignatieff, you're not alone," said Mr. Layton.

"Mr. Ignatieff's words don't match his actions. And he's betting you don't notice. He's betting you don't care. Mr. Ignatieff, saying one thing after doing another, is not Canadian leadership."

And he also made an appeal to Bloquistes. The NDP polling numbers have been surprisingly strong in Quebec recently.

The New Democrats and the Liberals will spend this election battling each other for the same turf: Canadians who are disenchanted with Mr. Harper and will do whatever it takes to remove him from office.

On Sunday, both Mr. Layton and Mr. Harper will be in British Columbia, a province that has always provided three-way races and where the New Democrats have had much succcess.

The NDP Leader will visit Surrey North where Donna Cadman, the Tory, beat the New Democrat by just over 1,000 votes in 2008.

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