Jack Layton can avoid a 'one-night stand' with Quebec voters and build his base in the province by sticking to core social democratic values, filling a void left long ago by the Liberals, says the NDP's elder statesman, Ed Broadbent.
"Quebecers have said they are going to gamble now on a federalist party for the first time in 20 years," Broadbent said of his party's historic election win May 2 under Layton.
"It will be up to the Quebec caucus to show they can do things for the people of Quebec but still do it within the broader picture of Canada and Canadians. That is a big challenge," Broadbent said.
The Quebec dynamic was evident at the party's first full caucus meeting on Parliament Hill Tuesday, where Layton gave a rousing speech, more than half of which was in French. It included a sizable section dedicated to Quebec voters.
"Quebecers voted for change. They told us they are fed up with the old debates and the old way of doing politics," Layton told the MPs.
"To Quebecers, my message is clear. You can count on me to defend your interests."
Layton rode an "orange wave" of popular support in the final weeks of the campaign, securing 103 seats, including 59 of Quebec's 75 ridings, which left the separatist Bloc Quebecois decimated and the Grits as Canada's third party.
In courting the province, the NDP Leader also opened the door to reopening the Constitution in a new deal for Quebec. He later clarified that while Quebec can't be left out of the Canada's Constitution, reform is not an immediate priority for New Democrats.
Layton's challenge will be to assure Quebecers the NDP is a viable alternative to the Conservatives as a national party, Broadbent said. The Liberals are no longer in the game, he added.
"The Liberal Party has lost all its constituencies. It lost to the Conservatives in the last 18 months, especially the ethic community across Canada. It lost Quebec a long time ago. It lost francophone supporters in northern Ontario to us a long time ago. The Liberal party has no base to go back to,'' said Broadbent, who led the NDP to a record 43 seats in the 1988 federal election, a benchmark unrivaled until Layton's big win.
As leader, Layton will also face the challenge of managing a caucus full of rookies, Broadbent said.
"You have to listen and lead. The MPs will have to get a sense of discipline and coherence and if that happens, Jack and the caucus can show the people of Canada that this wasn't a one-night stand or a flash," he said.
"The leader is essential in modern politics. The leader is the symbol of the party."
With a file from CP
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect date for Broadbent's 43-seat election win. This page has been updated