Inside the fight of Jack Layton’s life

His confidants and caucus colleagues recount the difficult days before and after his shocking announcement

Inside the fight of his life

Rene Johnston/Toronto Star

Jack Layton died after a months-long battle with cancer in the early morning hours of August 22, 2011. He was 61. Below is Maclean’s cover story on the charismatic NDP leader, originally published on August 4, 2011. To read Maclean’s definitive profile of Jack Layton’s life in politics, click here.

He had started complaining of pain and stiffness in late June. He was perspiring a lot, and found it hard to stand for long periods of time. His chief of staff, Anne McGrath, who first worked with Jack Layton when he ran for the NDP leadership nine years ago, thought maybe he’d over-compensated for his surgically repaired left hip and injured the right one. She wanted him to take the summer off anyway. It would have been a deserved respite after a remarkable 18 months that began with a diagnosis of prostate cancer and climaxed with him hobbling to an unprecedented election result.

Tests were scheduled. But then he also started losing weight. McGrath prepared herself to find out what was happening on July 25, when a significant test was to take place, but that test was moved up five days. With those results came a diagnosis and on the evening of Wednesday, July 20, two days after his 61st birthday, Layton called McGrath to tell her it was cancer. “He’s so upbeat,” she says. “He really is. It’s so funny. I don’t get it sometimes myself.”

He told her to tell him that she was going to keep working. “ ‘We started this journey together…and look at how far we’ve come and look what we’ve done,’ ” she recalls him saying. “And he starts going through the things that we’ve been through and everything. He says, ‘And we’ve got more to do.’ He was talking to me about fundraising, about increasing the party’s membership. This is on Wednesday night, you know?”

He was not unmoved by the situation he now found himself in, but he was not shaken from the focus that sometimes seems to be all-encompassing. “He was upset and I could tell that there were tears,” McGrath says. “But again, he’s just very determined.” Here Jack Layton began the latest fight of his life: confronting it, McGrath says, as if it were a political campaign. “He’s the same with his health situation as he is with the party. It’s like, ‘I want the team together, I want to plan, it won’t be acceptable if it’s not this and that and the other thing.’

“He knows,” she says later, “he’s got a big fight on his hands.”

He had finished the spring campaign feeling fine. Doctors operated on his left hip in early March, just three weeks before the writs were dropped: a small fracture of unknown origin had worsened to the point that it required intervention. He not only managed the constant, cross-country motion of a national tour, but improved as the campaign progressed. On the penultimate night, as the NDP plane made its final trip, the reporters seated near the back turned festive and Layton joined in the party, even dancing a little to Aretha Franklin’s Respect.

The House of Commons reconvened on June 2, and Layton began to settle into his new role as leader of the Opposition. But around the third week of that month, he acknowledged feeling sore. He was scheduled to participate in Montreal’s Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day parade on June 24, but confided to his press secretary, Karl Bélanger, that he didn’t think he would be able to walk the route. It would become a moot concern when the NDP decided to filibuster Bill C-6, the government’s back-to-work legislation for Canada Post.

Whatever pain he was feeling, Layton stood and spoke for nearly an hour to launch that filibuster on the evening of June 23. However tired he was, he still sat after a vote and chatted with the Prime Minister for a few moments as the clock later approached 1 a.m. on the morning of June 25. But as the filibuster neared an end that Saturday, he told Thomas Mulcair, one of his deputy leaders and the opposition House leader, that it would be better if someone else handled one of the NDP’s final interventions.

After the filibuster ended, Layton returned to his home in Toronto. He was back in Ottawa a couple of days later to attend the spring garden party for members of the press gallery at Stornoway. “He was not feeling great,” McGrath says of that evening; indeed, it would later be noted that he had remained seated for most of his time there. The following weekend, he participated in Toronto’s Pride parade, seated in a rickshaw beside his wife, and fellow New Democrat, Olivia Chow. McGrath says it was “a bit of a struggle,” but Layton insisted he attend.

Two days later—on July 5—he attended a celebration thrown in his honour by members of the Chinese community in his riding: they wanted to congratulate him on the NDP’s election result. He stood at the door of the restaurant and greeted each guest, then later stood and spoke to the crowd for a half hour, Chow standing beside him to translate. He stayed at the party until 10:45 p.m. And if he was at all struggling, it was not apparent when Joe Comartin, the NDP’s justice critic and deputy House leader, spoke to him by phone a few days after that to discuss the parliamentary session just passed. Layton’s voice was strong and he seemed full of energy. They discussed plans for August and September.

Less than two weeks after speaking to Comartin, Layton learned he was once again faced with cancer. “It just seemed so unfair,” McGrath says of her worry before the final diagnosis, “to have gone through all of that before, and to have come through this really historic election and to have done so well, and then for this to happen.” On July 21, the day after Layton had called to tell her the news, McGrath summoned Bélanger to a meeting in her Parliament Hill office. She explained the situation to him and then called Layton. Here Bélanger first heard the hoarse voice with which Layton would soon address the country. Layton apologized for not being there to tell Bélanger in person.

That first day after the diagnosis, McGrath moved to inform the senior members of Layton’s staff—including Bélanger, principal secretary Brad Lavigne and director of communications Kathleen Monk—who needed to know in order to prepare for a public announcement. “It was not the news that I wanted to hear, but obviously it was the news that we had,” says Lavigne. “You plan for all of the various options that may come down to you. That is just the nature of what we do for a living. When we got the results and the leader had informed us of the decision that he wanted to make, we then needed to put into place the game plan. It’s Plan B, really. We had to implement Plan B.”

On the morning of July 23, McGrath travelled to Toronto to see Layton. She had asked Nycole Turmel to call her and that evening Turmel phoned. Turmel thought they were going to discuss strategy for the fall. McGrath handed the phone to Layton, who explained that he had cancer and that he wanted Turmel to take his place for the next two months. “When Mr. Layton talked to me I was in a state of shock,” Turmel says. “He wanted to recommend me as interim chief of the party. I asked him how it worked and he explained the process. And I said to him, ‘Mr. Layton, I will do what I have to do. If you really want me to do this, I’ll do it.’ But I had a lot of grief and I told him that.”

Turmel would be portrayed as a surprising pick, but McGrath describes her as an ideal candidate. She is a bilingual francophone from Quebec—a province that elected more than half of the NDP caucus—with experience running a national organization (from 2000 to 2006 she was president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada). Though a rookie MP, the 68-year-old is a veteran of both the labour and women’s movements, and was once an associate president in the party. “Because she’s been a leader in an organization, she knows that leadership is about listening and consulting, but it’s also about making decisions,” McGrath says. Turmel had also already been unanimously approved by her fellow NDP MPs to serve as caucus chair. (This week, Turmel’s ties to Quebec sovereignists—including the fact she once held a Bloc Québécois membership card­—would present the first major test for the party in Layton’s absence. In response, Turmel said she joined the Bloc to support a friend—former Bloc MP Carole Lavallée—but that she never supported the party’s pursuit of sovereignty.)

When Layton handed the phone back to McGrath, she apologized to Turmel for having to ask this of her. Turmel says she barely hesitated. “When he asked me I considered it for about two seconds, because I saw that it was very important to him,” she says.

On Sunday, July 24, McGrath, Monk and party president Brian Topp went to Layton’s home to discuss the next day’s announcement. At one point, McGrath had assured Layton that he didn’t have to do it—that there were other options and he didn’t necessarily have to go before the cameras and explain himself to the country—but Layton wanted to deliver the statement himself. “I think it was important, and it was important for him, that if he felt that he could do the announcement that he should do the announcement,” Lavigne says, “that the words come from his own voice. The people of Canada deserved to hear it from him.”

Lavigne had left on a previously scheduled vacation to British Columbia and, working with text prepared by Layton and Chow, he sat at a picnic table outside his brother’s cottage near Cultus Lake that morning to work out a draft of Layton’s statement. The group at Layton’s home then spent the day going over what the NDP leader would say. The statement would begin straightforward and explanatory. His battle with prostate cancer was “going very well,” but he now had a “new, non-prostate cancer” that would require further treatment. He would be taking a leave of absence and he recommended Turmel take his place in the interim. With this outlined, Layton would conclude on a note of both optimism and determination, an appeal to lofty ideals and a reminder of political focus. “We will replace the Conservative government, a few short years from now,” he said. “And we will work with Canadians to build the country of our hopes. Of our dreams. Of our optimism. Of our determination. Of our values. Of our love.”

This was very personal. “Those were his words,” says Lavigne, another veteran of Layton’s 2002 leadership campaign. “That whole sequence of building that kind of Canada: it was his and it was very important to him that those exact words be in that statement.” The commitment to a political goal spoke, Lavigne says, to Layton’s entire purpose as a leader. “Those words are important not only because it illustrates how focused he and his team are, but it’s also a rallying cry to the supporters and to non-Conservatives throughout the country,” he says. “ ‘Look, I may have a second round of cancer and I may be taking some time off to fight, but let’s not lose track here or lose sight of what we’re in this for. And that is to build a better country and the way we do that is by defeating this Conservative government.’ ”

On Monday, before the announcement, Layton made phone calls to four senior members of his caucus: deputy leaders Mulcair and Libby Davies, deputy caucus chair Peter Julien and Opposition whip Chris Charlton. Davies missed Layton’s call, but heard his weak voice in his message and knew something was wrong. When she called him back, he took the opportunity to practise his statement with her. “He goes, ‘I need to keep saying this, I need to practise, I need to get it right,’ ” Davies recalls. Meeting at the downtown Toronto hotel beforehand, Layton told Bélanger, who organized Layton’s first news conference as NDP leader in January 2003 and has been with him ever since, that he wasn’t sure about his voice. “Well,” Bélanger replied, “some would argue it sounds sexy, sir.” Layton laughed.

Around noon, a notice went out to members of the press gallery that the NDP leader would be making an announcement and a message was also sent to the NDP caucus. Fifteen minutes before Layton walked into the news conference, Lavigne gathered those NDP MPs and staff members who were in Ottawa to watch as their leader told the country.

News of Layton’s prostate cancer had leaked 20 minutes before his announcement in February 2010. This time, Bélanger notes, the news did not leak until seven minutes before.

After he had delivered his statement, Layton ceded the stage to Topp and exited. In a nearby room, joined by his son, Toronto city Coun. Mike Layton, he watched some of the news coverage. He felt the announcement had gone well. Quebec Premier Jean Charest called to wish him well (on important occasions, Charest has typically been the first to call Layton). Later that afternoon, the Prime Minister phoned. “We are all heartened by Jack’s strength and tireless determination, which with Mr. Layton will never be in short supply,” Stephen Harper said in a public statement released by his office.

The rest of his MPs heard from him two days later, at a meeting to formally endorse an interim leader. Layton addressed the caucus via audio link, encouraging them to continue with the work of building the party. With a video link set up so that he could watch the proceedings from his home in Toronto, MPs took turns standing to speak, sharing stories and passing on messages from constituents. It was, by all accounts, an emotional few hours, with tears and laughter. “It’s an analogy that people have used and it’s an apt one: it was like a family affair,” says Paul Dewar, the New Democrat for Ottawa-Centre. Despite dozens of new members, the NDP caucus is said to be a united one, brought together in part by the experience of June’s filibuster. “In some respects, the government did us a favour by doing the back-to-work legislation,” Comartin says. That caucus now takes on a “mantle of responsibility,” as Comartin puts it. “We were going to have to show ourselves as a party and to show that it wasn’t absolutely about Jack,” Dewar says.

Reporters have not been told the details of Layton’s condition, but neither—with the obvious exception of Chow—have NDP MPs. It is unclear even how many of his senior aides are fully aware of what Layton is dealing with. In lieu of specific information, any number of explanations are possible. According to Danny Vesprini, a radiation oncologist at the Odette Cancer Centre at Sunnybrook Hospital and professor at the University of Toronto, “no definitive conclusion can be drawn” about Layton’s prognosis from his announcement. (Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, where doctors have been treating Layton since his prostate cancer diagnosis, released a statement explaining that “new tumours were discovered which appear to be unrelated to the original cancer and Mr. Layton is now being treated for this cancer.”) Vesprini, who does not know the particulars of Layton’s case, acknowledges the change in the NDP leader’s appearance. “He looked sick. Unfortunately it can happen over a relatively short period of time. He’s a skinny guy, so when you’re already skinny and you lose 10 lb., you look bad. So it’s relative. But in his situation, he does look very thin. It’s unclear whether that’s because of the disease, but everyone is thinking it, and the main concern is it’s because of his health.”

But Vesprini is cautiously optimistic that Layton will be back in Ottawa when Parliament resumes. “The reality is that there would be a lot of people in that scenario that may not be able to go back to work in September,” he says. “But the truth is that I have men in my practice who have looked as sick or sicker when I first met them because they had cancer that spread all over their bones, and three or four years later they’re fine, golfing and doing things. It all depends on what it is, and whether it responds to treatment.” The decision to mark Sept. 19—when the House of Commons is scheduled to resume sitting—as Layton’s expected return was his own. “He likes deadlines, plans,” McGrath says. “It’s part of his personality.”

Last weekend, McGrath and Topp visited Layton at his home in Toronto. His voice sounded stronger and he was able to walk them to the door as they left, without the assistance of a cane (he threatened to dance, McGrath says, much to the concern of Chow). Two baskets of DVDs put together by the actor-director Sarah Polley had arrived—she asked supporters in the arts community to suggest picks—and McGrath had other gifts from New Democrat MPs. He was still keeping in touch with McGrath about the party and they discussed various matters, including the American debt crisis.

In his absence, his team aims to carry on the work of preparing for the fall and building for an election four years hence. “If it’s fair enough to say that you can be both devastated and optimistic at the same time, that’s probably what the mood is,” McGrath says. “I’m very shocked, very sad, devastated and very hopeful and determined to do what needs to be done—because that’s what this team has always been about.”

Indeed, the feelings seem both mixed and resolute: tied to a leader who, as McGrath says, can be caring and emotional, but disciplined and determined. “There’s sadness and there’s anger and there’s frustration,” says Bélanger. “But then again there’s this friggin’ guy who comes in and delivers this message of hope and optimism. The same message that kept me around for eight years and a half.”

Layton’s only public comment since announcing his cancer came in the form of a tweet posted two hours after he finished his statement. “Your support and well wishes are so appreciated. Thank you,” it read. “I will fight this–and beat it.”


Inside the fight of Jack Layton’s life

  1. We all have sympathy for Jack’s situation, but there are still two important issues that need clarification:

    1. What is his “new” cancer, and what is the prognosis?  As an important leader of a major Canadian political party now, why was he not open and transparent about his illness, and what is he hiding from Canadians?

    2. Exactly why did he recommend Turmel as his interim replacement leader of the NDP?  Jack avoided being held accountable for his choice and remains incommunicado.  Jack will have to defend his choice of Turmel, after he returns.

    Pleading that we must respect his privacy and now reading this article; that will not stop cogent questioning of a public leader.

    • I’d like to know why someone’s BRIEF standing with the Bloc is relevant, when they have voted against separation many times, when Stephen Harper (and every PM over the last 20 years) has worked with the Bloc in some fashion or another, and when our sitting government has been found in contempt AND been charged with election fraud AND covered-up the torture of prisoners.

      • … and I would like to know why Turmel was not disqualified as a NDP candidate and member when she was also a member of the BQ and Quebec Solidaire, the latter being an extremist leftist party that not only fervently supported separation, but is also filled with Quebec communists and anti-semites?!

        Turmel cancelled her BQ membership before the election, but held on to her Quebec Solidaire membership until last week and when she was already elected NDP interim leader. Surely that is suspect!

        Not only that, but the NDP constitution was contravened by belonging to both the BQ and QS!  The federal NDP constitution forbids membership in other parties, federally and provincially.  Was Turmel given dispensation because of the controlling block of Quebec MPs, and Jack’s personal intentions were never held to account?

        BTW … the article is all about Jack and Turmel … so why are you introducing your Harper/Conservative hatred to oppose the cogent issues I list?

        • Being a kook is a feature, not a bug, when it comes to NDP membership.

          ” … know why Turmel was not disqualified as a NDP candidate …. but is also filled with Quebec communists and anti-semites?! ”

          “Prime Minister Stephen Harper has joined a chorus of voices calling for MP Libby Davies to resign as NDP deputy leader for casting doubt on Israel’s right to exist at a recent Vancouver protest against the Jewish state.”

          George Orwell ~  In addition to this there is the horrible–the really disquieting–prevalence of cranks wherever Socialists are gathered together. 

          One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.

          • I suspect there is something terribly wrong happening within the NDP federal caucus; perhaps a power struggle between the majority Quebec MPs and the minority RoC MPs.

            Jack was never held to account for his selection of Turmel, the ex-separatist, ex-communist, ex-unionist.  He just made his recommendation over the phone and listened in as the NDP caucus apparently voted ‘unanimously’ for Turmel’s leadership .. and there were no other candidates standing for that honoured position. It was a virtual fait accompli that knee-capped the veteran NDP MPs from the RoC. How could they oppose ailing Jack with his brave travails?

            Not only is Jack fighting his ‘new’ cancer, the NDP caucus and party may be fighting their own political cancer.

        • Are Con members  allowed to be members of the Wildrose party?  Or the BC Liberal party? 

          • Irrelevant …. the issue is Turmel’s membership in the socialist-separatist BQ and the communist-separatists Quebec Solidaire … and why the NDP executive were derelict in their duty to enforce the NDP constitutional requirements.

      • It is relevant, if you support a party that want’s to destroy this country, it is a big deal! And Harper and every other PM over the last 20 years had no choice but to kiss the Bloc’s butt because they need them politically  (But I have a feeling Harper will stop now that he knows he can win without Quebec) I hope things change, we love Quebec and want to stay together but it is enough, no more threats or blackmail to the rest of Canada!

        • And appoint former PQ members to the Senate?

          • I don’t think we’re allowed to question what Harper does, are we?

          • Nope! One day you will see the light and move from the dark side :-)

          • hollinm …. Dipper supporters refuse to broach reality … because their heads are stuck in their darkness and smell.

      • Brief standing….for five years with the Bloc? Who knows how long with the Quebec Solidaire ( probably since it was formed). It tells you she has sympathy for their policies, not just certain ones. How do you know she voted against separation? Because she said so. Don’t be naive. She was obtuse publicly about her affliations and still had the QS membership “in her pocket” when this whole thing was exposed for all Canadians to see.

        Of course the PM worked with the Bloc in the House. They are a duly elected party. If I had my way they would not be allowed to sit in the federal parliament and a law should be passed that only parties who run candidates in the majority of the ridings across the country should be allowed to sit in the Parliament of Canada.

        There was no specific vote on contempt in the House of Commons. It was wrapped up in the bill defeating the budget. Its hardly credible when the Liberal party becomes the judge, jury and executioneer. Canadians showed what they thought ot the so called contempt issue in the May election.

        So I guess it is perfectly alright for you to accuse the conservative party of election fraud without due process. Typical of the anti Harper crowd in this country. If they say it it must be so.

        Yes Harper was over in Afghanistan torturing prisoners. Shame on you to suggest that our troops participated in torture. 

    • All kinds of questions, Fred, I agree. Whenever the doctors want to try some chemo acupuncture to the yarbles, I thinks it’s time to make plans for a permanent vacation from trivial pursuits like politics. 

      There should have been a little boy whispering to Jack Layton: “All men are mortal.”

  2. Has Jack relinquished leadership and control of the NDP to the majority Quebec block of Quebec MPs with his selection of Turmel to replace him?

    The NDP majority Quebec MPs can impose their interests  over the interests of  the minority NDP MPs from the RoC.

    Is the NDP caucus in danger of splitting apart .. between Quebec-first MPs and RoC MPs ..??!!!

    Is Turmel now the de facto leader of the majority NDP Quebec MPs .. who don’t need the NDP MPs from the RoC to be the official opposition …??!!!!

    As interim leader she admitted her previous BQ membership and facetiously flaunted the fact she still held membership in the extremist Quebec Solidaire … and after she was unanimously elected leader by the Quebec-heavy caucus!

    Why did Jack knee-cap the old veteran NDP MPs from the RoC with Turmel?  What’s going on with the NDP?

    • You really are repeating yourself. 

      • Care to be the first to respond to all of issues I have ‘repeated’ …. or do you prefer to stay superficial?

        • Sorry, just doesn’t grab me enough.  The stock market plunge today has got my attention.

      • That’s because people like you don’t seem to get the significance of this. If Jack does not return to the House in Sept. she will be the interim leader until a new leader is elected.

  3. Once again….for the thousandth time we all wish Layton well and hope he is able to return to the House in Sept. full of vim, vigour and vitality.

    Having said that he and the party if they knew of Turmel’s affliations hid if from the Canadian people. That is not a sign of leadership but of cowardice. If she was the best person for the job he should have made her prior affliations clear and defended her. She has now been tossed to the wolves and rightly so.

    We are talking about the leader of the official opposition here.The government in waiting and potentially the PM.The leader and the party that is suppose to hold the government to account.

    This is mana from heaven for Bob Rae. The media will discount her and go to Bob Rae for comment if Layton is unable to return to the House in Sept.

    As for the past dalliances by Lebel and Bernier. This is just a smoke screen by the NDP to deflect attention. Neither came in a leadership role. They are now cabinet ministers but with little power.

    Turmel has been appointed leader of the official opposition and is not a nobody. At least it wasn’t until Layton appointed Turmel. The people who support the NDP in the rest of Canada and other Canadians are not amused.

    • This macleans article is an obvious puff piece for the NDP; and may be the prelude to the grim announcement of Jack’s chemotherapy results which should be soon available to the doctors.  I suspect the NDP is just milking the situation for all it’s worth and throwing out smoke around the debacle  of Jack’s selection of Turmel as interim leader.  Stay tuned ….

      • Obviously things are worse then they are telling the public. To think Layton could return to the House so soon after chemo etc is pretty naive to say the least.

        However, Turmel has lost all credibility and the parties in the House and the media more importantly who have been cheerleading Jack will ignore her if she shows up as leader of the opposition in Sept.

        • We all wish Jack a miraculous recovery and full remission of his ‘new’ cancer.

          Jack was a competent national political leader, and his loss would be devastating to the NDP and Canada.

          Turmel’s speckled political past is totally unacceptable to thinking Canadians, and her interim leadership of the NDP is problematic to say the least … and would become deeply divisive if maintained.

          If Jack comes back the Turmel debacle will fade away, but if he is unable to reclaim the NDP leadership the NDP may go into deep turmoil and chaos!

    • ‘As for the past dalliances by Lebel and Bernier. This is just a smoke screen by the NDP to deflect attention. Neither came in a leadership role. They are now cabinet ministers but with little power.’

      As members of the governing party, they DO have more power than Turmel, particularly since Turmel is just warming Layton’s seat and will not be the party’s leader in the future. Can you say the same for Bernier?

      I don’t give a rat’s ass about Lebel, Bernier or Turmel. Political low-hanging-fruit. Leave it be.

      Election’s over. Substance, please.

      • Do you see any substance to this puff piece article by macleans leftist journalists … and trying to prepare post-Layton history?  Over to you, hollinm ….

      • You can say Lebel and Bernier have clout but we both know differently. Once again and I will type slowing for you. She is the leader of the official opposition and as such there needs to be no question and I mean no question where her loyalty lies. It has to be for all of Canada not just for Quebec.

        I am waiting for her to hold her first press conference with the press gallery. Someone better ask her if she loves Canada. If the question was good enough for Stephen Harper it is good enough for a separatist sympathizer. Not one but two separatist parties. Now isn’t that something for all Canadians to be proud of.

        You can leave it be if you want but don’t tell me to do that. I happen to think this is a very significant event in our body politic in Canada. You can brush it off but I can’t and won’t. Over to you Fred.

        • In your heart of hearts, do your really think Turmel is a separatist? Really? Like, REALLY? If I really thought she was a separatist, I’d probably be in as big a huff as you apparently are. But I don’t, so I’m not. And I’m not in a huff about Bernier or Lebel either.

          • Well we see this differently. I support a party because I believe in their policies and there fundamental belief system. I do not support it for one or two of its policies. I do think she is a Separatist. Call me crazy. If it acts like a duck, quacks like a duck it is probably a duck.

            You can support specific policies by speaking about those policies but you don’t have to support the party by joining it, donating to it and supporting its candidates.

            I have a great deal of difficulty understanding people who want to white wash parties that have as their main goal the destruction of the country. You are either for or against. There is no in between.

            Those that try to establish an equavlency between Lebal and Bernier and Turmel are being disingenuous. They were not card carrying separatists at the time they ran for the conservatives. In fact some time had past since they worked or belonged to those parties. 

  4. Oh Jack, I sure hope you do well and comeback when Parliament resumes!

    • Claudia:- But what if Jack is unable to return in September, and his ‘new’ cancer is now terminal … what are the consequences of the Turmel appointment and what is the future for the NDP?

      Intuitively, I expect an announcement soon from Jack’s doctors informing us of Jack’s prognosis after the first phase of his chemotherapy on his ‘new’ tumours which seem to have developed quickly and caused the grim wasting away we saw on Jack.

      From the timing and sound of the macleans article, and the information provided by the NDP sources, I don’t expect good news.

      Of course we all have hope in our blissful ignorance …. an ignorance imposed by Layton and the NDP executive who must be fully aware of the details of Jack’s current serious condition.

      • I don’t think he is going to be coming back to Parliament any time soon, I wish him well and would hope for it, but I don’t think that will be the case, I really think that if he gets well he will retire from politics, most people that deal with this kind of things, change their priorities and I am sure he is no exception!

        But the NDP is a mess and I sure would like to know what was his reasoning to appoint a separatist as an interim leader, so the other ones would have a shot at a leadership run, that just proves to me that there is no one capable in that party, and that’s a scary thing. I do believe they are a one hit wonder, reelection as the Loyal Opposition, in their dreams, is not happening!!

  5. You people are sick.   The media throws you a bone and you act like dogs.   Think for yourselves, learn to trust a person or two in your life, and look at the credibility of Mr. Layton who has worked tirelessly and has always stood for a united Canada.     Look at the cancer in your own lives before you start looking for cancer elsewhere.

    • No … it’s Jack who is sick, seriously sick.  Canadians are wondering why Jack recommended Turmel as his choice for interim leader.  At his final press conference he read his prepared statement and quickly exited the room, but not before one news reporter was heard to ask Jack “What is your ‘new’ cancer?” … and Jack just walked out without turning back. 

      NDP president Brian Topp was left to face the media, and I think was disingenuous with the reporters and Canadians at large.

      Neither Jack nor the NDP have chosen to inform the public in an open and transparent manner resulting in serious questioning about what Jack is hiding from Canadians.   Perhaps you prefer it that way because you prefer denial in your sorrow and unhappiness.

      • Over, and over and over but we’re not to mention Goebbells are we?

        • Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies is the last refuge of losers.

          • This mindless repetition is either an amateur attempt at propaganda or you’re playing  Rain Man.  Harper has a majority for 4 years – all eyes are on him.

  6. IS THIS ARTICLE in preparation for a post-Layton NDP?  We shall see …..

  7. This article moved me … well done Wherry & Co.  Bizarre how the haters turned it into “Turmel the BQ #adnauseum”. 

    We all hope Jack will be back. Prayers and get well wishes sent daily …

    As for Turmel the once BQ … The attitude of the ROC – which really means English Canada, of which I am a part – puzzles me. My Canada includes Quebec. The Bloc did nothing for Quebec and messed up Parliament for the rest of us. I am glad they are gone … 

    So are we happy? Or not because it was the NDP that did it? I get that both CPC and LPC partisans are happy to use Turmel’s BQ ties as an excuse to make gains in the polls at the expense of the NDP … but is that all? and if so, is that responsible?

    Yes, the NDP has what no one else has – a French/English schism that is going to have to be delicately bridged. And yes, there are going to be problems, quite apart from the, uh, inexperience of some of the members – both life-wise and parliamentary-wise (though some of those young’uns were so cute in the filibuster and yes Andrew Coyne, no one went to Vegas). And yes, the nouveau NPD au Quebec (apologies if I’ve bungled that) is going to include former BQ and other separatists … and it may not be that distant in their past. Such is the reality of the politics of Quebec. 

    But one way of looking at that last bit is as evidence of how extraordinary the Orange Crush was in Quebec. Remember the election story was the PQ said “referendum” and Quebeckers said “le bon Jack”.

    So the NDP/NPD has a problem – how to represent both French and English Canada. I don’t understand why so many are so quick to punish them for the problem and predict that they won’t resolve even before they have begun to try. All I can say is – I am damn glad they have it. Someone has to be the Federalist party … at least if we are going to remain a “federation”. 

    Easy to slam the someones who have to try to straddle the French/English divide. But my question to the rest of you is – why aren’t you also slamming yourself for your failure to even be in that dangerous game?

    • I guess it is ok with you that the Bloc voters in Quebec simply transferred their votes to the NDP. They couldn’t effect change using the Bloc over the years. Its time to change the strategy. Now they have the NDP, purported to be a federalist party, to do the work of extracting everything they can from Canada. Look at the Quebec policies that the NDP is suppporting:
      -50% +1 is sufficient to break up the country despite the supreme court ruling
      -all supreme court justices must be fully bilingual thus removing from the position any English speaking judge.
      -creating the conditions so that Quebec will sign the constitution
      -French language is mandatory for all public institutions in Quebec.

      Those are the ones we know about. Wait till the fall and what other doozies they come up with.

      • 1. Yes, it is OK with me that the Bloc supporters simply transferred their votes to the NDP because then they were not voting for the Bloc.

        2. I agree with Trudeau that in his days the PQ was just a means to get special favours for Quebec or, as you say “extract everything they can from Canada”. I don’t agree that any of the NDP policies you mention would, by themselves, allow Quebec to do that.

        As for those policies:
        3.1 I do not think it matters one damn bit what the formula is for “splitting up the country” nor that the SCC gave one or said what wouldn’t do. If Quebec wants to leave, they will leave. And people persist in misunderstanding what that decision was all about. 

        The PQ was trying to namby-pamby separation by calling it “soveriegnty association” and calling for ties to Canada which essentially meant Quebec would be separate but still connected enough so that they would save money and be more secure and still take advantage of “national services” like Canada Post (at the time, perhaps essential). The Liberals were so smart in their response to this junk. 

        Essentially that SCC decision was a means to say to the PQ, well, you might want to have your cake and eat it too but we have a decision which says legally, we do not have to negotiate that with you unless you meet the threshold and 50%+1 is not enough.

        What that SCC decision is not and never was is a legal chain that says Quebec cannot leave on its own if it wants to. They can, they just cannot take bits of Canada that they find convenient to keep. 

        I don’t care whether it is 50%+1 or 50% plus 30%, I do not want to live in a country where we keep people captive and tell people they have to stay part of us “by law” when they don’t want to be here. 50%+1 is merely a means of saying “we respect your right to leave”. 

        3.2 From a legal perspective, I am agnostic about all SCC judges being bilingual. I am not convinced it is necessary but then again, as a lawyer, where Court is all about effective communication, there is something to be said about hearing and being understood in your own language. Simultaneous translation? Sucks.

        From a practical, or perhaps political perspective, I am very mildly in favour of it (a) because it reflects what we say we are – a bilingual country and (b) I think that the types of people who would be truly bilingual or be willing to learn in order to accept the appointment would make better judges in terms of their motivation and their life experience. 

        I could live without it, but this is not “extracting everything from Canada”. 

        3.3 Creating conditions so that Quebec could sign the constitution is theoretically a good idea. Trudeau’s deal still rankles in Quebec as does Trudeau’s NEP in Alberta – at least when I lived there. I’m all in favour of doing what we can to include Quebec at the national table.

        BUT, I am with you. This could be a place where the old “extracting” strategy could come into play and if it went that way – I would join with you in complaining. But nobody knows what this means yet and we probably never will unless and until the NDP gets into government and actually tries to implement these “conditions”.

        3.4 French language mandatory for all public institutions in Quebec? Not at all opposed. Ever dealt with CIPO or some other overly french Federal Government institution? Drives me crazy when you get to people who are supposedly bilingual but are not and do not understand English. Why? Because I cannot get anything done. 

        So I say yep, I understand this when it is coming from Quebec. It must drive them crazy too to need services from their so-called national government and cannot get them because they cannot understand or be understood.

        And if it is limited to Quebec, then extracting from ROC? Don’t think so.

        Does that answer your questions?

        • 1. I am also happy that the Bloc lost party status and influence in the federal parliament. However, if the transfer of those votes means that the NDP has simply been usurped and is now the de facto separatist party I am not happy. Only time will tell.

          2. The object of Quebec is to put their minority language group (17%) equal to the majority language group in all respects. That is a receipe for internal  strife. They want it for the rest of Canada but they do not want it for Quebec. Hence the draconian language laws in Quebec. Those policies of the NDP will cause the two solitudes to grow further apart. We are seeing it already.

          3. You are right about the formula for splitting up the country. However, when a so called federalist party panders and adopts the separatist credo of 50% + 1% in direct conflict with a decision of the highest court in the land then one has to wonder where they would stand in the event of a dispute between Quebec and the rest of Canada. This is particularly relevant when you have the caucus made up primarily of Quebecers, some of whom supported separation.

          4. I disagree with your position on sc justices. First of all the French population makes up only 17% of the total population. Since we are a country of immigrants and there is no doubt the face of Canada is changing would you support bilingual services for Mandarian, Italian. After all isn’t it better as you put it to be able to understand court proceedings in your own language.

          With the country still a primarily English speaking country the fact is we would eliminate a number of qualified judges simply because they do not speak the language of a minority group. We both know that those who supposedly are fluently bilingual are not really. Just listen to Stephane Dion, Nycole Turmel, Gilles Duceppe. I am sure it works the other way around as well but the fact is these people want Canadians to become bilingual but they have no interest in it themselves. 

          We are not a bilingual country and you know it. That is b.s. spread by politicians. You can function quite well in Canada without being able to speak French. The country never will become bilingual no matter how many billions are spent in trying to make it happen. This is purely a social engineering experiment that has failed big time. The statistics show that the number of people who can be considered fluently bilingual has not changed much since this draconian law was first past.

          Could you imagine what would happen in the United States if the federal government decided to make Spanish an official language and then decided to pass laws which limited the English speaking population from working in their own government, civil servants having their careers truncated because they could not speak Spanish, could not reach the seniors levels of the bureaucracy because they did not speak Spanish. There would be rioting in the streets.

          Canadians are far too passive and your comments reflect this. Canada is a welcoming country. However, this attempt to make us something we are not will fail and it will be the downfall of the country if we continue to pander to Quebec.

          • You know, we almost agree. We do have to wait and see. 

            But, we differ on the approach to Quebec. You are right that you don’t need to speak French to function … you need to speak English. Not much help if you are French. And whether we are not actually bilingual in most places (and this is true) we SAY we are – and there are many, many laws that support this.

            We have said that to Quebec and made promises on that basis since before Confederation and in the 144 years since. So, I’m not sure that we can complain if Quebec relies on those promises.

            If you want to say that we should just forget about pretending to be bilingual, and that is always open to English Canada, then, what are you saying to Quebec? Forget French AND you cannot leave? 

            To me, if we went that way, we might as well forget all court decisions and sit down and start negotiating Quebec’s exit because that would be the best argument for separation they could have. 

            If I were French, I would say – OK. Fine. Be English. We want our own French country. And I wouldn’t blame anybody that took that position. 


            Minor point on the SCC judges – at the SCC it is almost 100% lawyers and lawyers generally speak English or French – so the issue of Mandarin or Italian or any other language doesn’t arise in 99.9% of cases. Lower courts use translators and the SCC would do so too for unrepresented litigants. However, with translated cases, the issue of whether the litigant was actually “heard” because of the language barrier often occurs. 

            As I said, I’m not particularly in favour of the policy other than as a symbol of the consistency of saying we are bilingual – and to me that means the issue comes down to whether we as a country are going to continue to mean that when we say it … or whether we are going to continue to say it at all … 

            Other minor point – the SCC more than 50% +1 decision did not say that that was the threshold for separation. It said it was the threshold for a negotiated separation/association. It was smart for its time and purpose, but it is not the same thing as the NDP position today.

          • We do not have to pass draconian laws in order to protect a minority language group. The fact is Quebec is one province equal among 10….no better, no worse. Yet we have our politicians acting like they are different and feeding the beast in an effort to pacify them so they will not separate. They will not separate. 

            If the question is put to them legitimately and there is a discussion about the real consequences of such a separation the majority of Quebecers know where their bread is buttered. 

            Would the citizens of Quebec honestly believe they could survive economically and culturally with less than 7 million (after companies and the English minority leave) in a primarily English North America. The province would not leave in tact. It would be partitioned with the aboriginals in the North electing to stay in Canada. 

            It is so crazy we now have that fool Graham Fraser running around questioning private businesses whether they have enough bilingualism.

            What in essence you are saying about the appointment of supremes based on language duality is that those that are not fully bilingual are not fit to sit on the court. That too me is the highest form of discrimination and we have laws against discrimination in this country

            The Supreme Court said has stated and I quote “that democracy means more than simple majority rule, that a clear majority in favour of secession would be required to create an obligation to negotiate secession,  it must be a real majority”. Separatists and now the NDP agree that 50% + 1 is adequate. If that is a real majority what is not.

            I have no objection to anybody wanting to learn a second language be it French or otherwise. However, I do object to our own federal government passing draconian laws in an effort to first pretend we are a bilingual country and then to pass laws to discriminate against the majority language group. You can deny this is happening but there are plenty of examples.

            All provinces and terriorties need to be treated equally. Quebec should not be treated better than the rest. Buying them off and imposing their language on the rest of Canada is not the answer to a united country. If after a vigorous debate and Quebecers are presented with the real options and the consequences of those actions and they choose to separate. That is their choice.

        • The Quebec NDP MPs are a separatist cancer within the NDP and Turmel is like a poison pill that will cause the NDP to collapse and split.

          It’s unimaginable to have Turmel standing in the HoCs and dictating what questions should be asked.

          What was Jack thinking, was he of sound mind when he chose Turmel and then sandbagged the NDP caucus to unanimously elect her … in deference to his situation?

          We may never know if Jack doesn’t come back.

          • It is these types of sentiments that make me hope that Quebeckers don’t read the comments in Macleans. 

            As far as I know, the vast majority of the “swtichers” to the NDP in Quebec were former Bloc supporters, many of them fervent ones.  

            To demonize Turmel for her mild association with the BQ, etc., is to demonize all those people who used to vote Bloc. 

            I don’t understand the sentiment in English Canada that sends the message “we hate you for wanting to leave”. Ok. But why would anyone want to stay where they are not wanted?

  8. This comment was deleted.

    • We tend not to wish people death on this forum, regardless of what we think of their politics.  This isn’t SDA or some other Tea Party North board.

      • How do you read Tea Party into that?  As far as Jack goes, I merely wished he Rest in Peace. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with opposing threats to our nation’s future prosperity and security.  Although the NDP will probably take care of that business all on their own.  Socialists and Liberals tend to be their own worst enemies.

        • I’m sorry, I’m a bit sensitive about people wishing for the death of others.  The rhetoric is positively Beckian.

    • “RIP Jack and the NDP.  Good riddance.”
      – WOW…what a stunning sphincter you are, Bobby Killsmith!…such an impressive hardass!
      Thanks for demonstrating the chilling ‘warmth’ of a truly bone-headed, fascist! Indeed, only a miserable, rightwing imbecile would believe that showing compassion, having a charitable nature and a reliable social conscience is wrongheaded. What a cold-hearted turd you are! Go back under your rock.

      • RIP Jack and the NDP. Good riddance to useless rubbish. Go join them, smithy.

        • Well.. at least you’re not a hypocrite.
          Vile, uninformed, and likely stupid, but not a hypocrite. I’ll grant you that.


    – Turmel held memberships in the NDP, BQ and Quebec Solidaire.

    – Prior to the election, she reluctantly relinquished her BQ membership for “personal reasons”, not for policy reasons.

    – After being elected NDP interim leader, she revealed that she still held on to her QS membership, but would belatedly cancel it too.

    – Quebec Solidaire is a separatist party filled with Quebec communists and  assorted anarchists.

    – Turmel is a separatist AND a communist, deep in her mind and heart, and regardless of what she may say now. Callling herself a “federalist” is an outright LIE.

    – The NDP continue to support Turmel, even though she is a covert separatist and communist, because many of the NDP caucus are separatists and/or communists.

    – What is most egregious is the fact that Turmel contravened the NDP federal constitution that forbids membership in other parties.  Turmel was a member of the QS until last week while the NDP executive look the other way. Wonder why?!

    – Of course, Turmel is forgiven because she was Jack’s choice, and now Jack is in  a fight for his life and we must blindly support sick Jack.

  10. I have to say that I think you have crossed the line, trying to sell copy because someone is experiencing health-related hardship.  Jack has stepped aside from public life for health reasons.  Respect it.  Is it that slow a week that you had to make a story?  While anyone who is concerned always appreciates knowing how he is doing, you haven’t even covered that!  Let him have his private life until he overcomes the hardship.  Then if he wants to talk about it, let him be the one to go public, and not you.  I won’t be picking up any more copies of your ‘rag’ for a while.

  11. In reply to hollinm last reply above ….

    Hmm. I was wrong. We do not agree at all.

    1. SCC Judges: I never said anything about fitness. I said, maybe if you are going to be consistent about being an officially bilingual country.

    2. The 50%+1 Rule: You quote it accurately. You continue to misstate its meaning. More than 50%+1 is required to create an obligation on Canada to negotiate. That is different from saying 50%+1 = Quebec wants to leave.

    3. Bilingualism: First we decided we were a bilingual country. Then we passed laws to implement it. After that, yes some laws and policies were made to appease Quebec and avoid separation. But that doesn’t change the fact that the idea to have the “two solitudes” came first.

    4. Separatist Sentiment: I believe Quebec wants to separate because they do not think Canada can accomodate their wish to preserve their language culture enough (roughly put). Now you are saying that Canada should not accomodate them at all. Ok. But I think that will put more wind in their separatist sails. And lend separation more legitimacy. Happens all the time elsewhere. Could happen here.

    5. Surviving as a country: Even 6 million is substantial. Most scandanavian countries are around 3-4 million. They do fine. It may not be easy. It may not be as good as being part of Canada. But I think they could make it. And it is a choice they would have to make – assimilate or go it alone.

    Fundamentally all I see happening with your approach is to make unhappy people unhappier and encourage people who are already thinking about leaving to start packing their bags. 

  12. Jack, please get better.  Your commitment to public service is admirable, and you deserve the best for your health.

    Canada needs an effective defender of “social democracy,” and I say that as someone who loathes big useless government making a mess of things.In my possibly twisted logic, I want Canada’s best possible advocate of socialism to be in the best possible shape, to do the best job possible… and then lose fair and square.  I don’t want the NDP to lose over the Turmel turmoil; I want the NDP to lose because their policies are seen by Canadians for the damage they would cause.

  13. The Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) is the largest cancer fighting organization of its kind, with more than 400 member organisations across 120 countries. It is the leading non-governmental, non-profit, non-political and non-sectorian cancer organization and its mission is to eliminate cancer as a life-threatening disease for future generations. Could you please take a moment to sign the World Cancer Declaration on behalf of the Princess Margaret Cancer Program? The Declaration is a tool to help bring the growing cancer crisis to the attention of government leaders and health policymakers in order to significantly reduce the global cancer burden by 2020.

    You can sign at: Under the field “register my signature on behalf of:” please select, “Princess Margaret Hospital”. Under the field “register my signature on behalf of:” please select, “Princess Margaret Hospital”.
    Thank you very much for your support.

  14. My heart goes out to Jack Layton. I have followed Jack from the time he made his first appearance as leader of the party – he wasn’t always right, but his heart was always in the right place. I pray that the members of his party will carry on and stay true to Mr. Laytons principles. I grieve for him, for his family and friends as well as for the party. Cancer is an ugly thing and so devastating not just to the body but to  our spirits as well and Jack I believe has a great deal of ‘spirit’ and I know he will fight to the end….and who knows…..the “Man Upstairs’ obviously has His own plans for Jack and we can pray that HE will give Jack the strength he needs to fight this insidious destructor. Go Jack, my prayers are with you always.

  15. Oh my my Goodness!! I was so very saddened after I heard this sad news on this Monday morning about Mr. Jack Layton’s death, he was such a humble and nice man. I last saw him at a function I attended in the Seikh community at Gerrard Square where he give a speech and shopw his gratitude for the community which he did not belongs to…but he was very accommodating as a Politician..
    I even took few phot’s which I still have in his Seikh attire a Goldesh/yellowish glittery courta and pants. As he came down from the stage he walk pass where I was standing with other viewers and said how is everyone today?  I answered hello Mr. Layton nice to see you here today..He give a big smile as he always.  I just couldn’t believe this sad news I was hoping like everyone else he’ll fight this dreadful disease cancer, he stated it was not prostate but a new type of cancer??Was hoping for a speedy recovery t oreturn back to his office in September

    To Olivia his wife, and two children/ grand children and his entire families my most sincere condolence goes out to you, I can only image how you are feeling at this moment. May God help you through his painful period. We will all miss him so dearly as an NDP leader and hope some of his political legacies which he emplimented will be carry through, he had some very good policies…unfortunately he couldn’t make it….My prayers are with the families..!! R.I.P Mr. Layton
    now you will practice politics with the angels and God!!!

    Toronto, Canada

  16. Best election bumper sticker ever:
    Not voting NDP? Then you don’t know Jack!
    He was a great man, gone too soon.

  17. I always thought that Jack Layton was an a-hole, God bess his you-know-what, but we all share his belief that Canada is the only hope that this world has left. Canada forever!

  18. no confirmation on his alleged use of medical marijuana? there never will be….. even if he did use it, no way the public will get to hear about that….. SOME things are just not said…..

  19. From youth, by youth,

    Jack, thank you for believing in us, we will not disappoint you. 

    This @CanYouth:twitter  article is dedicated to the one and only Jack Layton.

    Please read, like, comment and repost in the memory of Jack. 

    Canada lost a great leader today, but his memory and legacy lives on within us. Honour the man and remember him not for what he did, but ultimately, who he was and what he believed in.
    You will me missed Jack :(
    Follow us on Twitter @canyouth:twitter , Like us on Facebook

  20. My condolences to Olivia Wong and the rest of Jack Layton’s family. At the same time, Canada should be glad that the New Democrats lost the election, because the NDP would be in the position of choosing a new leader that the Canadian people didn’t vote for. 

    Layton should have been more up front about his illness. I attribute this lack of openess to two things: 1) Layton’s legendary ego, and 2) Layton’s fear of his cancer spooking Canadians into not voting for the NDP.

    On the one hand, I am impressed with how Layton got ordinary people with no political experience to stand for parliament and get elected. On the other hand, this country could have had a new prime minister whose last job was working behind the counter at Burger King. 

    If Nycole Turmel succeeds Layton as NDP leader, she will have some pretty big shoes to fill, considering the timing of Layton’s death. She will be more or less like a mother hen trying to keep her young chicks from running out onto the autoroute, when you consider how inexperienced so many of the NDP MPs are. 

    • Why do you repeatedly offer your condolences to Olivia “Wong”?

  21. It’s tiring, isn’t it, this endless anger and rancour and attack?  Exactly the things Jack Layton didn’t want.  Yet here we have posters like “SamSteele” repeatedly referring to his wife and fellow M.P. as “Olivia Wong.”  Are you trying to make some sort of point, “SamSteele”?  If so, maybe you could have the courage to speak up with your real name?  Or continue to be a gutless coward hiding behind a nickname. It’s your choice. 

    My Canada is tired of ugly, angry people like you.

    Long live the optimism of leaders like Jack Layton.