The federal New Democratic Party has lost its leader.
Jack Layton, leader of Canada’s official Opposition, died early Monday at his home surrounded by family and friends after losing his battle with cancer. He was 61.
Nanaimo-Cowichan NDP Jean Crowder said Monday morning she was just coming to terms with the news.
Crowder was first elected in her riding in 2004, the same year Layton won his first seat in the House of Commons as leader of the NDP. Layton had won the leadership of the party in January 2003 on the first ballot at the leadership convention.
“We’re all shell-shocked,” said Crowder. “We knew he was sick, but because he is such a fighter we all had hope for his recovery. It just wasn’t meant to be. He was such a fighter and he worked so hard to get to where he was and it just felt like there should be some justice but we all know life just doesn’t work out like that.”
Crowder said notes of sympathy were arriving from all points of the country into her constituency office.
James Lunney, Nanaimo-Alberni Conservative MP, said Layton’s ability to communicate and his personable demeanor made him a likable person despite a difference in political philosophies.
“Sixty-one is too young for anybody to die,” said Lunney. “We knew it didn’t look good for him and it was amazing the energy he had during the last election campaign. But I will say this, Jack was passionate about his politics, he was an effective communicator, he motivated a lot of Canadians, played an important role in the political discourse of our nation, and for all of these reasons he will be missed.”
Lunney said he often chatted with Layton during flights and within the House of Commons.
“Jack struck a chord with a lot of Canadians. We may have disagreed with a lot of the message, but he was passionate. Even though we as a party had differences with Jack on philosophical aspects and approach to various issues, I always respected Jack as a human being and as a committed and passionate person,” he said.
Leonard Krog, Nanaimo NDP MLA, said he backed Layton during the 2004 NDP leadership convention because he recognized Layton’s energy and believed he had the ability to take the party to the next level.
“He came to Nanaimo a few times over the years and I felt looking at his background and energy that this was a guy who could take the party some distance and he did,” Krog said. “He has achieved what politicians going back to the days of J.S. Woodsworth have tried to achieve and that is to make the NCCS/NDP a truly national party and into a position where it could become government. The first step in that is to become the Official Opposition and Jack achieved that.”
When Layton inherited the federal NDP in 2003, the party had 13 seats in the House of Commons. After the last federal election in May, primarily because of strong campaigning in Quebec, the party achieved 103 seats to become the country’s Official Opposition for the first time in its history.
“The awful part of this is for him to have worked so hard and come so far and achieve so much. But the one thing I’ve learned is that life is not fair,” said Krog.
Crowder served as deputy caucus whip and caucus chairwoman when the party was small, allowing her to get to know Layton well in her early days as an MP.
“Most of us who ran, ran because of Jack. I ran because of Jack,” said Crowder.