Quebec language rights first order of business: Layton
NDP Leader returns to French television program credited with boosting his electoral fortunes in Quebec.
NDP Leader Jack Layton returned Sunday to the popular Quebec talk show that helped jumpstart his rise in the province and vowed to defend the interests of Quebecers in Parliament.
Layton told Radio-Canada's influential "Tout le monde en parle" that his first order of business when he returns to the House of Commons will be to introduce legislation that strengthens the language rights of Quebecers working in federally mandated buildings.
"The NDP will make sure that Quebec's hopes and dreams are at the table every day in the House of Commons," Layton said to applause from the studio audience.
The new leader of the Official Opposition is just coming off a stunning breakthrough in the province that saw his party jump from one seat to 58.
But his party has since faced questions about some of its young MPs and whether its success in Quebec is actually good for Canadian unity.
More than half of his party's 102 seats are in Quebec, and Layton is now confronted with a difficult balancing act as he tries to meet the demands of his newfound nationalist supporters in Quebec without angering those elsewhere in the county.
The sovereigntist Parti Quebecois is also favoured to oust the ruling Liberals in the next provincial election, likely to be held in two years time, putting even more pressure on the NDP.
One of the show's hosts summed up Layton's position as sitting on a "razor's edge."
As the audience broke out in laughter, Layton replied that, for the moment, he is "comfortable" where he is sitting.
When asked how he felt about his newfound responsibility defending the interests of Quebec, he replied: "We have a big responsibility, but I really see it as a great opportunity ... to work for Quebec and Canada."
Layton also defended some of his party's newly elected MPs who have come under attack for being young and with little or no experience in politics.
The 27-year-old Ruth Ellen Brosseau, who was criticized for taking a trip to Las Vegas during the campaign, admitted on the weekend that she had never been to her riding.
When asked why she has skirted most media requests since being elected, Layton said Brosseau is nervous because "it's her first time in public life" but said he's confident she will be able to do the job.
He said that young people who want to get involved in politics should be given a chance.
"We send our youngsters to Afghanistan, why not Parliament?" he said to applause from the studio audience.
Layton acknowledged his party won't have much power under a Conservative majority and said it will depend on public pressure to pass legislation that will cut back on credit card rates, increase family doctors, and "create winning conditions" for Quebec in Canada.
The NDP has compared its promised language legislation to Bill 101, Quebec's landmark language law that oversees aspects of everyday life.
But the proposed law for federal buildings in Quebec likely wouldn't go as far; it would require employers to communicate with employees in French and give employees the right to use French amongst themselves, but it wouldn't preclude using languages other than French.
At the end of his appearance, Layton was given a hearty round of applause from the audience.
"Tout le monde en parle," which translates as "Everybody is talking about it," is the most-watched show in the province and can have a big impact on political fortunes.
It's regularly viewed by about 1.5 million Quebecers.
Layton's popularity in the province spiked following an appearance on the talk show early in the election campaign.