NDP Leader Jack Layton held a high-energy election rally in St. John’s Saturday afternoon, hoping to lend some support and momentum to candidates in this province.
In a speech to supporters, Layton promised to support the Lower Churchill hydro project and said his party is the only one voters should trust.
He also took specific aim at Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff for past sleights against the province.
“People here have long memories and they don’t appreciate the way Mr. Harper treated them,” Layton told reporters after the rally. “Or that Mr. Ignatieff turned around and had his party support the very budget that shortchanged the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.”
The party is hoping to see a breakthrough in the province.
Incumbent NDP candidate Jack Harris is widely expected to hold his seat in the riding of St. John’s East, and the party has high hopes for the riding of St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, where candidate Ryan Cleary narrowly lost to Liberal Siobhan Coady in the 2008 election.
The defining feature of the last election in Newfoundland and Labrador was then-premier Danny Williams’ “Anything But Conservative” campaign.
Thousands of regular Conservative voters cast ballots for other candidates or stayed home election day.
With the ABC campaign in the past, no one is sure what will happen this time around, but the NDP is saying there is still a deep distaste for Harper.
“It’s a question of people searching their souls and saying, who do we trust?” Layton said.
Cleary said he is hearing good things from people in his riding, and that the visit from Layton will give his campaign a boost.
“It’s good for everybody to see that the New Democrats are picking up steam right now,” Cleary said after the rally. “I think people are tired of the same old same old with the Liberals and Conservatives.”
In his speech, Layton praised the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, and said if he wins the election, he will lend federal support for the project.
“I'll support your leadership here in renewable energy development with a loan guarantee from the Government of Canada for the Muskrat Falls Project,” Layton said in his speech.
“And invest $375 million in the Maritime Transmission Link from the 3P Canada Fund and our Green Infrastructure Program as a foundation for a green energy grid in Atlantic Canada,” Layton said.
Aside from the Lower Churchill, Layton was asked about fishery issues. Cleary has called for an inquiry into the state of the province’s fishery.
Layton stopped short of calling for an inquiry, but agreed that something needs to be done.
“I know there’s a deep concern as to what happened in the fishery here,” Layton said. “We certainly think some kind of investigation has got to take place, and I think Ryan is expressing the frustration of people in this province as to what happened.”
Saturday’s rally also featured a performance by local reggae-ska band The Idlers.
The celebratory mood was broken, briefly, during Layton’s speech when a heckler interrupted him.
It was unclear what the woman was shouting about, but Layton diffused the situation by saying that he would talk with her after the rally.
“There’s always people who have an opinion to express,” Layton told reporters. “Sometimes it doesn’t agree with yours, and you just sit down and have a conversation about it.”
Layton is the third federal leader to visit St. John’s since the election was called at the end of March.
Canadians go to the polls in two weeks, on May 2.