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NDP Leader Jack Layton pauses after delivering a speech in Ottawa on Jan. 14, 2011, on Canada's role in Afghanistan. (Pawel Dwulit/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
NDP Leader Jack Layton pauses after delivering a speech in Ottawa on Jan. 14, 2011, on Canada's role in Afghanistan. (Pawel Dwulit/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

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NDP girds for 'next possible <br/>election window' Add to ...

1. Ready, aye, ready. NDP Leader Jack Layton may be saying he doesn't want an election but he has directed his party to get ready for the "next possible election window," NDP campaign director Brad Lavigne says.

That window opens in mid-February.

"We are [getting ready]but the preference is to get some things done in the House," Mr. Lavigne said in an email to The Globe on Thursday. "The ball is in Stephen Harper's court as to whether there's a spring election."

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Regardless, this proves there is more in the air than simply empty election rhetoric.

Mr. Lavigne has written a substantive memo to his boss about election readiness and preparations, which was strategically leaked to Postmedia. In it, Mr. Lavigne asserts the party is ready to launch an "aggressive federal election campaign at any time" in which it will spend record amounts of money.

"I have given the staff team here the readiness date of mid-February to be ready to go on your signal," the memo to Mr. Layton says. It also says the party has paid off its debt, has money set aside to run a campaign and is searching for candidates for all 308 ridings.

The campaign chief told The Globe that Mr. Layton is looking to the Tories for some policy goodies, should they be interested in NDP support on their upcoming budget. And he laid out his party's terms of engagement: "Pension protection or election? Help for seniors of election? It's up to Stephen Harper."

News of the NDP memo comes with Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff on a winter tour of 20 ridings the party believes it has a shot at winning and amid a series of pre-writ Tory attack ads.

Still, the pressure is on Mr. Layton to see how it will handle the confidence vote on the budget. The Liberals have all but said they will vote against it and the Bloc is unlikely to support it without a compensation deal on the harmonized sales tax, leaving the NDP to prop up the Harper government or take it down.

2. What's old is new again. Former Liberal prime minister John Turner returns to the House of Commons Thursday afternoon - a rare visit for him since he left Parliament Hill in 1990.

The 81-year-old is to serve as Speaker and preside over the Queen's University model parliament. For more than 60 years, Queen's students have been playing the roles of leaders and MPs, debating the issues of the day.

For the past 18 years, they've been able to actually sit and perform in the House of Commons thanks to Peter Milliken. The Commons Speaker facilitated access since Queen's is in his Kingston constituency.

But this will be a rather poignant return for Mr. Turner. A true believer in the importance of vibrant debate, civility in the Commons and public service, Mr. Turner echoed all of those sentiments in his last speech as an MP in the chamber. Though it was a very emotional speech, few of today's MPs heed his words.

3. Gala time. Political Washington was abuzz Wednesday over the lavish state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao - and part of that buzz involved speculation as to who First Lady Michelle Obama would wear to the dinner.

Heavy betting was on Chinese-American designer Vera Wang, who was among the guests. But Mrs. Obama chose to wear a red gown by the late British designer Alexander McQueen, who committed suicide in February.

Laureen Harper, meanwhile, usually chooses Canadian designers - Lida Baday, for example, to wear to events. And as Mrs. Obama was wowing everyone at the state dinner, Mrs. Harper was at the first planning meeting for the National Arts Centre gala for which she serves as the Honorary Chair. Two years ago at that fundraising gala she convinced her husband to take the stage sing and play a Beatles' tune.

Coincidentally, Stephen Harper, who wowed the audience and boosted his polling numbers with his performance, was accompanied by Yo Yo Ma. The celebrated cellist was also at the state dinner in Washington Wednesday night.

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