Jack Layton takes a leave

The NDP leader steps down temporarily to battle new cancer

by Aaron Wherry

(This post last updated at 6:38pm.)

Looking gaunt and sounding hoarse, Jack Layton has told a Toronto news conference that while his fight with prostate cancer is going well, he is now dealing with a new cancer and will be taking a temporary leave from politics. He says he intends to return when Parliament resumes in the fall. In his place, he is recommending that Nycole Turmel serve as interim leader of the NDP caucus.

2:13pm… The official announcement is here.

If I have tried to bring anything to federal politics, it is the idea that hope and optimism should be at their heart. We CAN look after each other better than we do today. We CAN have a fiscally responsible government. We CAN have a strong economy; greater equality; a clean environment. We CAN be a force for peace in the world.

I am as hopeful and optimistic about all of this as I was the day I began my political work, many years ago. I am hopeful and optimistic about the personal battle that lies before me in the weeks to come. And I am very hopeful and optimistic that our party will continue to move forward.

We WILL replace the Conservative government, a few short years from now. 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.

2:18pm… NDP president Brian Topp says the NDP caucus will meet Wednesday morning to consider Mr. Layton’s suggestion and who will lead the party until his return. Advice from the caucus will then be reported to the party’s federal council and then the council will choose the leader. Mr. Topp says Mr. Layton was in hospital for a period of time, but has no details on what his coming treatment will involve. “I wouldn’t bet against Jack Layton,” Mr. Topp says. Mr. Topp wrote about his own battle with prostate cancer last year.

2:25pm… Mr. Topp notes that Ms. Turmel is already caucus chair and thus already has a mandate from the caucus. More on Ms. Turmel here, here and here.

2:36pm… Video of Mr. Layton’s announcement is available here.

2:40pm… Early reports from the Canadian PressGlobe, Star and Postmedia.

2:46pm… The NDP has set up an online form for Canadians to send get well messages to Mr. Layton.

2:51pm… The Post’s Kathryn Blaze Carlson reports that doctors have not yet determined which type of cancer Mr. Layton is dealing with.

3:07pm… The Green Party has released a statement, including best wishes from Elizabeth May.

“Jack Layton has been dedicated to public service all his life. From Toronto City council, to heading up the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to Leader of the NDP, we have worked together over many years. I join Canadians across Canada who wish him well and pray for his recovery,” said Green Leader Elizabeth May…

“Nycole Turmel is an excellent pick for interim leader.  We send her very best wishes and I look forward to working with her in the House of Commons.  Her capable leadership will allow Jack to put his focus on his health so that he can then re-join us in Parliament” said May. “Our thoughts and prayers are also with Olivia Chow and all of Jack’s family as well in this difficult time,” said May.

3:23pm… A statement from Liberal leader Bob Rae.

“I was saddened today when I heard that Jack Layton will be temporarily stepping down as leader of the New Democratic Party due to the discovery of a new type of cancer. We know that Jack is an incredibly resilient man who does not give up a fight. During the last election, he showed an incredible courage in the face of health challenges. 

“I hope that taking a break from politics will give him the time and energy he needs to make a full recovery and continue his contributions to public life. On behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada and our parliamentary caucus, I wish Jack Layton a full recovery and a speedy return to politics.

“On a personal note, Arlene and I have known Jack and Olivia for many years. We wish them our very best.”

3:30pm… A statement from the Prime Minister.

“I was deeply saddened today to hear that Jack Layton is temporarily leaving his post as leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition and leader of the New Democratic Party.

“Mr. Layton is passionate about his convictions and the future of our great country. I would like to wish Jack a successful recovery so he can quickly return to his post.

“I salute the courage Mr. Layton continues to show in his fight against cancer, a fight that more and more Canadians are winning. We are all heartened by Jack’s strength and tireless determination, which with Mr. Layton will never be in short supply.

“On behalf of Laureen and myself, and on behalf of our entire Conservative caucus, I would like to offer our heartfelt support to Jack, Olivia and their family. Our thoughts and prayers are with them during this difficult time.”

3:42pm… Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto has released the following statement.

“Doctors at Princess Margaret Hospital have been treating Mr. Layton for prostate cancer since his diagnosis. Recently, new tumours were discovered which appear to be unrelated to the original cancer and Mr. Layton is now being treated for this cancer.”

4:03pm… A tweet from Mr. Layton.

Your support and well wishes are so appreciated. Thank you. I will fight this – and beat it.

4:21pm… A statement from Ms. Turmel.

I think Jack’s statement speaks for itself today.

My colleagues and I are all just wishing our leader a speedy recovery.

As for the next steps, Caucus will meet on Wednesday and Federal Council Thursday to choose an interim leader. I am honoured by his recommendation, but have no further comment to make today.

4:49pm… Bruce Campion-Smith reviews the potential political questions.

What does Layton mean to the NDP brand?

In short, everything. In the spring federal election, Layton led the NDP to their best-showing ever, winning 103 seats, enough to make the party the official opposition for the first time. The historic results, especially in Quebec, were largely due to the strength of Layton’s personality and folksy image. Since taking over as leader in 2003, Layton has attracted new votes and funding to the party.

5:10pm… The case being put forward for Ms. Turmel as interim leader seems to be threefold: despite being a rookie MP, she has experience in positions of public leadership; as caucus chair she’s already been elected to a position of leadership by her fellow MPs; and turning to her means not having to choose between deputy leaders Libby Davies and Thomas Mulcair. More on Ms. Turmel from the Canadian Press and Global.

6:38pm… On CBC this evening, Brad Lavigne, a top aide in Mr. Layton’s office, noted one precedent for Mr. Layton’s current leave of absence: Jean Chretien. Mr. Chretien, then the recently elected leader of the opposition had surgery to remove a benign growth from his right lung on February 25, 1991 and did not return to Ottawa until April 2. Much of that time was spent recovering in Florida. As a result of his absence, he missed that year’s debate on the budget (which was tabled February 26). Sheila Copps led the Liberals in his place.

Jack Layton takes a leave

  1. Sad news. I wish Jack Layton all the best in his battle with cancer.

    • Best wishes for a speedy recovery Jack.  Your health is important, get better and return to lead your party.

  2. Best wishes to Jack and his family. 

  3. Mr. Layton’s politics are not mine; beyond that I believe he is a good man and deserves better from this world. Good luck Mr. Layton.

  4. I grew up with Jack in Hudson, Que.
    He looked so frail and gaunt, I doubt he will be back.

  5. Not my party, not my kind of leader, but a good guy who doesn’t deserve this, and does deserve all our best wishes as he fights this thing. Give ‘m hell, Jack!

  6. Best of Luck Jack

  7. Prostate cancer is a very slow growing cancer.

    Even at his age, I wouldn’t want to treat it, I would take the wait and see approach and see if it spreads or not.

  8. Bad news for Jack. I wish him the best.

    Odds are that he won’t come back. Battling C twice in this
    short a time period is tough. He might not have the energy to come back, even
    if he beats it. Does the NDP have a good replacement? Jack was the best thing
    the NDP had in the last election. If they can’t come up with someone to replace
    him, it will be bad for the party. A lot of people voted for Jack, not their
    local person.

    It will be interesting to see how this works out. Will a NDP
    with reduced popularity help the liberals come back? Will the Bloc come back?
    It is quite a while from now, but I had just expected to see Jack around for a
    lot longer.

    Time will tell.

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