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Pearson-era minister eyes comeback with NDP

  • April 26, 2002 9:15 pm

Ex Liberal, Conservative: Layton’s ‘got a lot on the ball,’ says Hellyer, first elected in ’49

Bill Curry

CanWest News Service

OTTAWA – Pearson-era Liberal Cabinet minister Paul Hellyer is the latest name to enter into discussions with NDP leader Jack Layton about working together in the next election.

The two have met on several occasions in recent months to discuss Mr. Hellyer’s proposal of merging the Canadian Action Party — currently led by Mr. Hellyer — with the NDP.

“I think [Mr. Layton’s] got a lot on the ball and is very aggressive and imaginative and charismatic and he’s going to stir things up,” said Mr. Hellyer, 80, who was first elected to the House of Commons in 1949.

Mr. Hellyer served in Cabinet under former Liberal prime ministers Louis St. Laurent, Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Trudeau. He joined the Progressive Conservative party in 1972, although he was defeated in the general election in 1974. He was a candidate for the leadership of the Conservatives in 1976.

Mr. Hellyer rejoined the Liberal party in 1982 but resigned in 1996 and the next year formed the Canadian Action Party to protest cuts implemented by the federal Liberals.

He is opposed to the North American Free Trade Agreement and says Prime Minister Paul Martin’s Liberals and the new Conservative Party of Canada are leading Canada toward annexation by the United States.

Mr. Hellyer’s party, which received only 27,103 votes in the 2000 election, passed a resolution last fall endorsing a merger with the NDP under Mr. Layton’s leadership, provided the party’s name is changed and the NDP ceases to grant unions block-voting powers on policy and leadership matters.

In an interview, Mr. Layton confirmed he is trying to convince Mr. Hellyer and his supporters to join the NDP, but ruled out changing his party’s name before the next election. Mr. Hellyer is proposing the new party name include the word “progressive.” Mr. Layton said he hopes to convince the Canadian Action Party to campaign under the NDP and leave the debate over a possible name change until after the election.

“The rationale for creating a new party is not strong enough to persuade me that it’s the wise course of action at this moment,” Mr. Layton said. “We’re still talking. I think we can see with the Alliance takeover of the Conservative party, they threw out the word progressive, so it is available.”

Mr. Layton said he hopes to offer Mr. Hellyer some assurances on policy matters that could convince him to support the NDP. “I think he and I are very much in sync in our ideas,” he said.

When told Mr. Layton would not agree to a name change, Mr. Hellyer said he hopes to continue his negotiations and would not rule out running for the NDP in the next election. “I just don’t want to speculate because I need to do some hard thinking. I hope we will still get together for another session, and then if his decision is negative on the merger, then we can at least discuss other possibilities or see if there’s any flexibility involved and, if so, what it is,” he said.

Mr. Hellyer, who recently wrote a book called One Big Party, said a new name is required because a psychological barrier prevents most Canadians from voting for the NDP