The impact of NDP leader Jack Layton’s death on Aug. 22 has been felt throughout the country. Layton, who died at the age of 61 from cancer, led the NDP into Canada’s Official Opposition in the most recent federal election.
In a press release, B.C. Premier Christy Clark said Layton was an inspiration: “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. Mr. Layton inspired Canadians during his first battle with cancer and we were all behind him during his second courageous fight. He was a dedicated public servant who earned the respect of Canadians for his clear desire to build a better country.”
Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy was similarly affected by Layton’s passing.
“He was so important not only to the NDP, but also to all of Canada as country. He had a real special ability to connect with people,” said an emotional Conroy.
She recalls a story about when Layton came to the region and met with constituents.
“When he was running for leader, he came to Castlegar to talk to New Democrats. There was a meeting at my parents’ place, out in the yard. We had about 40 people. There was a lot of seniors there, and my granddaughter was there as well and she was about three at the time,” she said. “She went up to him and stood next to him. He picked her up and put her on his lap and kept dialoguing with people – talking about his leadership and his vision for Canada and at the same time totally enthralled her and kept talking to her and entertaining her. I thought anyone who has the where-with-all to do that is going to go somewhere.”
Layton, of course, rose to become leader of the NDP and led the party to become the government’s Official Opposition for the first time in the 2011 federal election with 103 seats won, the most ever in NDP history.
“He’ll be missed. It’s very sad. I was just a convention [with Layton] and he was so full of life,” said Conroy. “He had such an extraordinary ability to be that kind of a leader that wasn’t just the party, he reached out across all different parties. My heart goes out to his family.”
As a Member of Parliament for BC Southern Interior, Alex Atamanenko worked closely with Layton and said the loss of the NDP leader will be tough for the party.
“He was very important to our country. I’ve worked with him and seen his capacity to act as a leader and to bring people in our party together. Not only our party but also his work behind the scenes with leaders of the opposition, the prime minister and others,” said Atamanenko. “I just think it’s a really tragedy that he won’t have a chance to really lead the country. We have lost a great leader.”
Layton was always easy to approach and was very open to MP’s, said Atamanenko.
“He was always very open to me. He was always only a phone call away. At times I would Blackberry [text] him or call him if I had a concern and he would always get back to me. When we met it wasn’t just a handshake, it was hugs,” said Atamenko. “Jack was a very warm person to all people. He was a listener. He thought things out. He had a vision to make our country a better place.”
Taking over as interim leader for the NDP was Nycole Turmel, who stepped in last month after Layton stepped down.
It is expected a permanent successor for NDP leader will be determined with a party election in the fall.
“There is a mechanism in place to select a new leader. According to Jack’s wishes, hopefully this will happen early next year,” said Atamanenko. “We have to make sure to stay united and focus on the issues. We won’t have Jack there to guide us.”