Tributes poured in Monday for federal New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton, who died of cancer early Monday at age 61.
Layton’s death comes just months after Layton led the NDP to Official Opposition status in Canadian Parliament, a first for the party.
On July 25, Layton announced he was fighting a second bout of cancer, and was taking time away to seek treatment. The NDP says Layton died peacefully before 5 a.m. Monday at his Toronto home. His wife and fellow MP Olivia Chow and loved ones were with him.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement in Ottawa.
“On behalf of all Canadians, I salute Jack’s contribution to public life, a contribution that will be sorely missed,” Harper said. “I know one thing: Jack gave his fight against cancer everything he had. Indeed, Jack never backed down from any fight.”
B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix said: “While the country is the poorer for Jack’s passing, Canada is richer for his immense contribution over a lifetime in politics. Wherever he went and whoever he met, Jack made his mark with his optimism, dynamism and boundless energy.
“As we grieve, we also commit ourselves to continue to build on his legacy and the principles he fought for all his political life.”
Premier Christy Clark also issued a statement.
“It was with great sadness that we learned today of the passing of federal New Democrat Party leader Jack Layton,” Clark said. “A passionate Canadian, Jack Layton was a tireless advocate and his energy, dedication and intelligence have been at the service of Canadians since his days as a municipal politician.”
“Collectively, Canadian hearts are breaking,” national Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said in a statement. “Jack will always be remembered for his unfailing love of Canada and his dedication to this country and its citizens.”
When he announced he was taking a medical leave, Layton recommended as interim leader Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel, one of a surge of new Quebec MPs that lifted the NDP to 103 seats.
Layton, leader since 2003, was the focus of the campaign that saw a collapse of Liberal and Bloc Quebecois support.
“He changed the landscape of Canadian political history,” said Penny Priddy, a longtime Surrey New Democrat who served both federally and provincially.
Priddy, a cancer survivor herself, was an MP from 2006-2008 when there was little sign the NDP was about to score a massive breakthrough in the 2011 campaign.
“Regardless of what was happening publicly or what number we were at in the polls, Jack was always, always positive. It was always about going forward. It was never about how we can’t do something.”
New Democrats were rocked when Layton announced he had to hand over the party’s leadership to face a new, harder fight against cancer.
“I was just incredibly disappointed for Jack that after bringing home this astounding election result that he was going to have to step away from that,” Priddy said.
Jinny Sims, a newly elected NDP MP in Newton-North Delta and former head of the B.C. Teachers Federation, said Layton inspired a new generation of youth.
“The one thing he gave Canadians over the last few months was hope,” Sims said. “I can’t think of a greater gift. He gave us all hope there’s a new way of doing things, there’s a new way of doing politics.
“We will honour him by working harder to create the more progressive Canada of his dreams.”