Jack Layton, leader of the Opposition in Parliament, died early this morning of cancer at the age of 61. Layton became head of the NDP in 2003 after a long career in municipal and national politics. He was a major voice on the Toronto City Council in the 1980s. In the ’90s, he suffered a number of political setbacks, including unsuccessful runs for the Mayor of Toronto and for the House of Commons, but continued to gain prominence on the city council and as the president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. His election as leader of the NDP vaulted him over several sitting MPs; a year after he took over the party, he finally won a seat in Parliament, in the Toronto-Danforth riding. Using his outsider status to his advantage, Layton built the NDP into a more potent political force, culminating in his and the party’s greatest triumph in 2010, when the NDP won the most seats in its history and became the Official Opposition for the first time. But Layton’s greatest triumph was followed almost immediately by tragedy. Though he had battled prostate cancer the year before, in July 2011 he announced that he was once again fighting cancer (the nature of which was not disclosed) and that he was stepping down from the NDP leadership to concentrate on his treatment. Today his family issued a statement that Layton “passed away peacefully at his home surrounded by family and loved ones.” Layton is survived by his wife Olivia Chow, an NDP member of Parliament, and his children, Sarah and Michael Layton.
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