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Pension issues form foundation of NDP offence against Conservatives

Jack Layton, in the spotlight as the federal NDP open their first national convention since becoming the official opposition, says the resolution of the recent Air Canada strike leaves open pension issues his party sees as the foundation of a platform for toppling the governing Conservatives.

The NDP leader has said the topic of pension reform is a way for his party to demonstrate a streak of practicality - a necessary quality for gaining political traction against a Tory majority government.

After a speech to about 1,500 delegates on the opening day of the convention, which also marks the 50th anniversary of the formation of the New Democratic Party, Mr. Layton said he was pleased at the end of the strike by Air Canada customer service and sales staff - a dispute in which a defined-benefit pension plan was among the issues.

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But he said the debate over pensions continues.

"Governments shouldn't be throwing workers to the wolves when it comes to companies that want to rip apart a pension system that was supposed to guarantee their economic security after, in many cases, 20, 30, 40 years of work, and I wish the Harper government would take this pension and retirement security crisis for all Canadians more seriously," he said in an interview.

Mr. Layton has promised to talk to Canada's premiers about joining the NDP in an effort to strengthen the public pension plan.

During the recent federal election campaign, the NDP proposed doubling Canada Pension Plan benefits and pumping an extra $400-million annually into the Guaranteed Income Supplement for the poor. The party said higher corporate taxes would cover the boost.

New Democrats from across Canada, including Mr. Layton's full 103-member caucus, are in Vancouver for a meeting that was scheduled before the election.

One key issue for the party is figuring out how to move from opposition into government when voters go to the polls in 2015.

In his opening address, Mr. Layton set government as his goal, and said that reaching it will involve offering a "positive alternative" through a policy foundation that includes pension reform, providing more doctors and nurses for the health-care system, and environmental protection.

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Former federal leader Ed Broadbent, who announced on Friday that he was setting up a social-democracy think tank with start-up funding from the party, said Mr. Layton has the luxury of time in trying to figure out how to take the party to the next level. He said he has no more details on the project.

"Jack will be aiming, as he should be, to form a government," said Mr. Broadbent.

But, in an interview, he said Mr. Layton no longer has to assemble immediate policies to deal with the precarious nature of a minority government.

"Now we have four years. And the people of Canada, entirely reasonably, are going to be looking at us more closely than in the past and part of rising to that challenge is to have a more comprehensive agenda that's at once progressive and practical," he said.

The agenda for the rest of the convention, which ends on Sunday, includes a speech on Saturday by Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter and Mr. Layton's closing address.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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