New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton held another large rally in the heart of Toronto. Layton, whose party is in a tough fight for second place with Michael Ignatieff's Liberals, pledged more funding for healthcare and to bring the troops home.
The Canadian election campaign is in the homestretch and although polls are indicating that it looks like another Conservative minority government, the headlines are focusing on the surge of Jack Layton’s New Democrats.
According to the Globe and Mail, Elections Canada is reporting that advanced polls are indicating a higher voter turnout. Plus, a new Angus Reid survey puts Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives at 35 percent and the New Democratic Party with 30 percent support.
Michael Ignatieff’s Liberal Party was polled at 22 percent.
On Tuesday, Layton held a “historic” town hall meeting at the University of Toronto’s St. Michael’s College in the heart of the city. The NDP leader took questions via telephone, Twitter and from the audience in attendance.
Layton, in front of a capacity crowd, continued to put forward the same message, which consisted of more funding for healthcare, education, senior citizens and homelessness. He also addressed the high cost of gasoline, the increased need of broadband Internet across Canada and the Prime Minister’s Cabinet.
“Everywhere I go across the country I hear these same stories of families who are trying to make ends meet,” said Layton. “I heard from somebody just last night in Alberta and they said they were unable to afford child care, and it's just not right, we can do much better.”
NDP leader Jack Layton speaking to an audience member.
One Twitter question was related to Ottawa and its openness. “This is the first time I've ever received a question through Twitter,” said Layton.
“We launched our digital strategy just a few days ago here in Toronto and it includes the number of key elements. One of them includes to make the information the government has – and you paid to have it collected – to be available to Canadian citizens by having an open portal so you can get access to all this kind of information.”
Layton applauded the United States Obama administration for publishing information on legislation, committee hearings and any government-related documents online so it can be reviewed by U.S. citizens.
The NDP leader claimed that the current leadership in Ottawa “closes the door,” doesn’t regard the process of freedom of information in a positive manner and maintains a “big budget for black marker pens.”
“It's time to open up the information because when it's open government can be more accountable, people can find out what's going on and make useful and important suggestions around politics,” said Layton. “This is something we are committed doing and it’s part of our program.”
He briefly noted that the government of Canada needs to ensure that citizens have access to this information. Layton commented that 30 percent of Canadians don’t have access to broadband Internet: “We can build a railroad in this country to bring us together; we can build broadband to make sure everyone has access to it.”
At the end of the response, Layton said the New Democrats are opposed to recent initiatives in favour of usage-based billing, which received a huge applause from the crowd. “People are being gauged.”
Education, federal government’s role
NDP leader Jack Layton's Town Hall Meeting at the University of Toronto.
Another question came from a Ryerson University dance student who asked about priorities and education. Layton started off by asking the student, in jest, when his next performance is, but continued by stating education is a critical issue for Canada.
“If we’re not providing high quality, affordable, accessible post-secondary education, then other countries are going to get ahead of us,” said Layton. “We’re not going to compete with some other parts of the world on salaries. We have to compete on smarts.”
Layton told the audience that he continually hears from students that they have to stop their post-secondary education studies because they can’t afford it anymore.
Another story Layton hears on a consistent basis is that a student who has the education and sufficient training takes a job that has a lower salary and unable to pay off the student loans. The student then has to take another job unrelated to their field, “even though we needed those social workers.”
“The problem we have here is that the federal government has never laid out in law what its responsibilities are, and we propose to do exactly that,” said Layton. “Understanding and respecting provincial responsibilities, understanding in particular in Quebec the very, very important role that it takes place in the promotion and spreading of Quebec culture.”
The NDP has written a bill, and Layton said the youngest woman in the House of Commons, Niki Ashton, is the sponsor of the bill and she is still in school.
With five days remaining, the Prime Minister will spend more time in Ontario as he visits Waterloo and St. Catherines. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff will visit Sault Ste. Marie and Toronto. Layton will spend Wednesday in Manitoba and Alberta.