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Layton says he'll be 'driving hard' to strengthen pensions

NDP and official opposition leader Jack Layton leaves after speaking at the 26th Constitutional Convention of the Canadian Labour Congress in Vancouver, Wednesday, May. 11, 2011.

GEOFF HOWE/The Canadian Press

Aspiring for relevance in the face of a Tory majority government, NDP Leader Jack Layton says he will forge alliances with Canada's premiers to advance his party's commitment to strengthen guaranteed public pensions.

"I say to all provincial premiers - regardless of which party you represent - when it comes to strengthening pensions, you have an ally in Ottawa," Mr. Layton told about 2,500 delegates at the largest convention of the Canadian Labour Congress in a decade.

The new Leader of the Official Opposition received a thunderous welcome from delegates, who gave him a standing ovation as he entered a cavernous auditorium at the Vancouver Convention Centre and cheered and applauded Mr. Layton on a long walk to the podium for his brisk speech.

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Pension reform was part of Mr. Layton's campaign pitch, but he invited the premiers into the effort on Wednesday, suggesting that if they work with New Democrats, pressure can be applied to the federal Tories to result in "real action" to strengthen the Canada Pension Plan and Quebec Pension Plan.

"This is the kind of concrete, reasonable solution Canadians are looking for out of Ottawa. And it's the kind of practical approach that the New Democrat opposition will bring to the House each and every day," Mr. Layton said.

Mr. Layton's post-election contact with the premiers has, so far, largely consisted of congratulatory phone calls from some. However, one party official said that the new Opposition Leader will now reach out to the provincial and territorial leaders to see if they want to work with him.

During the campaign, the NDP proposed doubling CPP benefits and pumping an extra $400-million annually into the Guaranteed Income Supplement for the poor. It said the GIS boost would be covered by higher corporate taxes.

"We want to see the retirement security crisis in this country addressed. We know that provinces want to see the Canada Pension Plan strengthened. We've been calling for that. Stephen Harper has, so far, really refused to take the issue seriously, so we're going to be driving hard on that question."

Mr. Layton also vaguely defended Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the new NDP MP for the Quebec riding of Berthier-Maskinong. Ms. Brosseau has been criticized for her poor French, going on vacation in Las Vegas during the campaign, and never visiting her riding before winning the election. On Wednesday, she made a first appearance in the riding at a museum celebrating its fifth anniversary.

Mr. Layton, pressed on her situation, did not substantively respond, but noted that she won her riding by 6,000 votes, which he said suggested her constituents were interested in the change she represented. "I think they're going to be very excited by the representation they're going to be receiving," he said.

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