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NDP Leader Jack Layton delivers a speech to his caucus in Ottawa on May 24, 2011.

CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

NDP Leader Jack Layton is stressing the life and work backgrounds of his 103 MPs, as the group dominated by political rookies met face to face for the first time on Parliament Hill.

In a speech that was light on specific policy issues, Mr. Layton highlighted his team and then criticized Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to appoint three failed Conservative candidates to the Senate.

"Just look at Stephen Harper's first act since the election. What was Stephen Harper's very first priority?" he asked.

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"It wasn't to get down to work on improving health care, was it? It wasn't to strengthen pensions, was it? And it certainly wasn't to clean up Ottawa.

"No, Stephen Harper's very first post-election priority was to reward failed Conservative candidates with high-paying Senate appointments," he said.

Mr. Layton said the appointments of Larry Smith, Fabian Manning and Josée Verner display a total lack of respect for the voters in Quebec and Newfoundland who rejected those candidates.

"At the start of this new chapter in Canadian political history, Stephen Harper had the chance to turn the page on the old, cynical politics of the past. Instead, he did the opposite," said Mr. Layton.

In reference to the large show of support his party received from Quebec, Mr. Layton said representing Quebeckers is a big responsibility that all NDP MPs will carry.

The list of new MPs has attracted a lot of attention, particularly because the surprise wave of support for the NDP in Quebec meant victory for several NDP candidates who did not expect to win, including a handful of students.

Nevertheless, Mr. Layton stressed the experience of his MPs.

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"I'm excited about the team we have," he said. "Members who have served in all levels of government. Small business owners. Community leaders. Members of Canada's arts community. First Nations and Innu leaders. We have here - standing shoulder to shoulder - the experienced leaders of today, with decades of experience, and the young Canadian leaders of tomorrow, and of many years to come."

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