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NDP Leader Jack Layton, who is recovering from hip surgery, acknowledges a standing ovation in the House of Commons on March 9, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
NDP Leader Jack Layton, who is recovering from hip surgery, acknowledges a standing ovation in the House of Commons on March 9, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

NDP pins election hopes on the 'Layton Liberal' Add to ...

The NDP have identified a new voter for the upcoming election campaign - the Layton Liberal.

That's the group Jack Layton and his team will be aggressively courting as they prepare to do battle this spring, according to senior New Democratic officials in a pre-election background briefing this week.

The officials left little doubt they are planning to try to defeat the minority government after the March 22 budget. They said Mr. Layton, who has been suffering from a fractured hip, will be healthy enough to mount a full 36-day campaign.

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"The NDP can't prop up the government for free," one of the officials said. "We're not into fig leaves."

By this he meant that they are not expecting the Harper government to offer any substantive measures in the budget they can support.

NDP research has identified potential growth among the so-called Layton Liberal - someone who has voted for the Grits in the past but doesn't like Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff or Stephen Harper and likes Mr. Layton. Officials believe it will take a "gentle nudge" for them to switch to the New Democrats.

The party has 37 seats now, but the officials - although they sounded so bullish about their prospects - refused to put an exact figure on the number of seats they want to win in the next campaign.

Rather, they suggested that more than ever the NDP vote will count in this campaign, raising the idea of a coalition government with the Liberals.

One of the officials did concede, however, that the party that wins the most seats in the next election will be the one that has the first opportunity to form a government - this is what happened in Britain last year when Conservative David Cameron won the most seats and formed a government with the Liberal Democrats.

Meanwhile, they outlined where they will focus their resources - going from east to west.

In Newfoundland - where they have one riding already, St. John's East - they now believe they can broaden support and win Liberal Siobhan Coady's riding of St. John's South-Mount Pearl.

Nova Scotia provides them with opportunities, according to the officials, because the provincial government is NDP.

So they see potential wins in Conservative Gerald Keddy's South Shore-St. Margaret's riding, and against Liberal MP Mike Savage in his riding of Dartmouth-Coal Harbour, where the former NDP provincial leader Robert Chisholm is running.

One official called this a "game changer."

In Montreal, where deputy leader Thomas Mulcair has the only NDP seat in the province, the party has just launched a billboard and bus-shelter campaign, featuring Mr. Layton and Mr. Mulcair. They are looking to win seats in West Quebec, across the river from Ottawa.

In Toronto, the NDP are going after Liberal seats along the Bloor Street subway line. They believe the Liberal vote has weakened in the 416 area code and they are vulnerable.

And so it goes across the country with the officials outlining seats they see as possibilities in Saskatchewan, even Tory Alberta (Edmonton East and Edmonton Centre) and several in B.C.

The NDP will play up the economy but not on a macro-scale. Instead, they will campaign on affordability and "pocketbook" issues, such as increasing food prices, home-heating fuel and the controversy over the HST in Ontario and B.C.

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