Mr. Layton, knowing he and his party are probably the key votes of either keeping the government alive or causing it’s downfall, comes out sounding very conciliatory, trying to get out the message to the voters that the NDP is trying to “make Parliament work”, if Harper and the Conservatives are willing to make concessions for the greater good. If Harper rejects that (and indications are he will be), then Layton can claim that he tried his best to keep the Canadian public from that “unnecessary election”, but Harper just wasn’t being reasonable. That line of argument might help both the NDP, and indirectly the Liberals, against the charges of the Conservatives that this is an “unnecessary election”.
Is that what the NDP strategy is? We’ll see. Some of my Liberal blogging brethren may not buy it, but when I saw how Layton was wording his statements to the media, I began to think that is what he and the NDP might be up to, strategy wise. After all, it’s the Prime Minister’s duty (and the governing party’s duty) to maintain the confidence of the House of Commons. With the Conservatives playing partisan games with the EI Commission, and then potentially spurning the NDP’s offer of conciliatory gestures, the counter charge that this government is unwilling to work with the other parties certainly can be made, and made by multiple opposition parties.
I would add that Layton's approach to pre-election positioning is optimal: he defends key NDP principles while showing Canadians en masse that he is willing to be reasonable and accommodating to get things done - as popular a place to be in current circumstances as one could hope for. There would be a problem with actually making a deal with the Conservatives, since it would expose the NDP to potentially effective attacks from the Liberals. It is a very different situation from the NDP support given to Paul Martin in 2005.
The NDP doesn't really have much in the way of prospects for additional seats in this election, and is likely be focused more on protecting seat pickups from 2006 and 2008. But the party's ability to protect those gains should not be underestimated. If the Liberals do well, some seats will be lost, but the NDP's resources and very considerable strategic talent will likely produce relative success in this context.