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NDP Leader Jack Layton speaks to reporters outside the House of Commons after being sworn in as Leader of the Official Opposition on May 18, 2011. (PATRICK DOYLE/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
NDP Leader Jack Layton speaks to reporters outside the House of Commons after being sworn in as Leader of the Official Opposition on May 18, 2011. (PATRICK DOYLE/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

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Layton's budget wish: 'Lift every single senior out of poverty' Add to ...

Jack Layton hardly needs that cane anymore: five weeks fighting a national campaign that won him Official Opposition status has put a new spring in his step. His hip, fractured just before the government fell, is healing well.

The NDP Leader has gathered his 102 MPs - including 59 from Quebec - for a national caucus meeting this week in preparation of the June 2 return of Parliament. The Globe caught up with him on Parliament Hill Tuesday morning to find out what to expect.

1. What will be your first move as Leader of the Official Opposition?

"We want to press the government to recognize that 60 per cent of Canadians did not vote for this government," he said, "and therefore some of the priorities that we laid out ... should be incorporated in the budget."

Such as? "Lift every single senior out of poverty. It could be a fraction of the corporate tax cut," he suggested.

2. Stephen Harper's majority government is vowing to kill the $2-per-vote public subsidy to political parties. Will you support this move or try to oppose it?

"Oh, we think [the subsidy]has actually been good for democracy because it allows for a much more level playing field," he said. "I think that's important."

If the Tories kill the subsidy, Mr. Layton said the NDP will simply have to raise more money. "But it will be a setback for the democratic process in Canada," he said, noting his concern over potential increases in corporate donations. "The big danger here is that big money comes back into politics one way or another. Those that have big money already have enough influence around here."

The NDP's average donation is about $80. So he will not likely try to press for the individual contribution limit, present at $1,100, to be raised as some have suggested should the subsidy be axed.

3. The Harper government is also vowing to reform the Red Chamber, requiring senators to be elected and placing limits on how long they can serve. Where is the NDP on this issue?

Mr. Layton wants the Senate abolished. "It's not an institution that we need in Canada to produce good public policy. Having a second layer of legislators some of whom will be appointed, some of whom may be elected - it will have a mixed up and confused legitimacy," he said.

"And it has not shown that it is a useful body. People point to the occasional interesting study that is produced. Well if we want an interesting study let's ask a group of interesting Canadians to do a study for us and pay them for their time. We don't need a big, expensive Red Chamber that is a repository for Conservative and Liberal fundraisers to be paid for by the taxpayer with staff and pensions and salaries and offices and phones. It will make the Senate an even more partisan body than it is now."

4. Defeated cabinet minister Josée Verner will receive $116,000 in severance for her five years as an MP and then an annual salary of $132,000 for her appointment to the Senate. Should she give up the severance?

"She should refuse the Senate appointment," Mr. Layton said, "that's the simple solution to that problem. I don't know her age [she is 51]but assuming she can stay there until she is 75 - you can do the math on what a Senate salary is from now until age 75 and there will be a pension after that."

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