Layton vows no end to NDP 'honeymoon'

NDP Leader Jack Layton takes aim at Stephen Harper at the close of his party's convention in Vancouver on Sunday, saying the prime minister will be waiting a long time for the NDP "honeymoon" to end.

Anti-merger motion defeated, leaving door open to talks with Liberals

NDP Leader Jack Layton delivers a keynote speech at the party's 50th anniversary convention in Vancouver on Sunday. (Ben Nelms/Reuters)

NDP Leader Jack Layton took aim at Stephen Harper at the close of his party's convention in Vancouver on Sunday, saying the prime minister will be waiting a long time for the NDP "honeymoon" to end.

Layton's comments came after delegates put off a vote on a potentially divisive resolution to drop the word "socialist" from the preamble to the party's constitution.

While paying tribute to his New Democrat predecessors, Layton also hailed the "next generation of leaders" at the convention, noting the average age of MPs is now below 50 for the first time in Canadian history.

Layton also received a glowing endorsement from his party's members, with 97.9 per cent of delegates voting against holding a review of his leadership following the party's record showing in May's federal election.

The New Democrats stormed past the Liberals to take the second-most number of seats and form the Official Opposition to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative majority government. The party also gained the vast majority of seats in Quebec, leaving the once-formidable Bloc Québécois with just four seats.

Layton hit out at comments by Harper at the Conservative Party convention earlier this month. At the time the prime minister suggested Quebecers' affection for the NDP will pass, saying, "As many of us know well, no honeymoon passes as quickly as one with the NDP."

Layton remarked on two longtime NDP members who spent their honeymoon at the party's founding convention 50 years ago. As the pair stood before the delegates Sunday, Layton said, "If that's any indication, Stephen Harper could be waiting around for quite a long time."

'Socialist' debate set aside

The "socialist" wording proposal, considered the most contentious issue at this weekend's NDP policy gathering in Vancouver, was aimed at broadening the NDP's appeal.

But the showdown was averted after delegates unanimously approved a motion by NDP president Brian Topp to refer the resolution to the party's executive for more discussion.

Layton defended the choice to set aside the issue for another time saying that, "People wanted to try and find a refinement and modernization of the language to capture what our values are. There was no disagreement about the values. It was about the nature of the label."

Manitoba NDP MP Pat Martin led calls for the language change, arguing it was time for the party to broaden its appeal beyond traditional labels.

Merger still on table

In earlier voting Sunday, party delegates also rejected a resolution calling on the party to reject all future mergers with the Liberals — which leaves the door open to potential future talks between the two opposition parties.

Longtime NDP MP Peter Stoffer led the opposition to the anti-merger resolution, arguing it would be a strategic mistake to limit the party's options as it seeks to increase support.

'We were right' 

Layton also spoke about the party's stance on Afghanistan, noting that in 2006 he was criticized for calling on the government to support negotiations with the Taliban. The Conservatives responded by dubbing him Taliban Jack.

With the U.S. confirming this week that it has had preliminary contact with the Taliban, Layton said it was an example that his party does not always take the "easy route."

"Our political adversaries insulted us, attacked us viciously, [but] the NDP did not back off and, today, guess what, the United States are now negotiating with the insurgents." Layton said, "We were ahead of our time, we took a courageous decision at the time and we were right."