Jack Layton dies of cancer at age 61
NDP Leader Jack Layton, who led Canada’s Official Opposition, has died at his Toronto home at age 61 after a long battle with cancer.
Layton died peacefully at his home in Toronto early Monday, surrounded by family and loved ones, according to a statement from his wife, Olivia Chow, and his children, Sarah and Michael Layton.
“The struggle has ended for Jack Layton, I mean very quickly,” said CBC’s Chief Correspondent Peter Mansbridge, who broke the news over the air. “I think we all knew when we saw those pictures in late July that this was a difficult situation. But it went very fast in the month since then.”
After the news of Layton’s death emerged shortly after 8 a.m. ET, friends, colleagues and Canadians reacted quickly.
Longtime NDP leader and MP Ed Broadbent told CBC News that he is “deeply saddened such a great Canadian is taken from us in the very prime of his life.”
Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said the news took his breath away and that Layton’s death is not just a loss for his party, but for all Canadians.
“It’s a loss for the country because he was a political guy who believed strongly in politics and who had a lot of resilience and a lot of guts,” Rae told CBC News.
The leader of the Official Opposition announced on July 25 he was stepping away from the job, a role he coveted and had won only two months earlier, to concentrate on his cancer treatment so he could come back to Parliament in the fall, ready to fight for Canadian families.
Fighting with hope and optimism was a recurring theme in Layton’s life. Long before his battles with cancer, Layton had developed a reputation as a fighter — a determined, goal-oriented, passionate one who would take on a cause and not let go.
In his teens in the 1960s, he led a fruitless bid to have a youth centre built in his hometown of Hudson, Que. Later, as a community organizer and activist in Toronto, and then in his political work, Layton showed a passion for such issues as the environment, AIDS, poverty, violence against women, public transportation and homelessness. Layton also fought for aboriginal issues, and was given credit by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008 for his role in shaping the federal government’s apology for the residential school system.
As longtime New Democrat and union leader Al Cerilli told CBC News in an interview several years ago, “Good or bad, he’s on the front page, he’s in your face,” he said. “Jack is not shy, he is of that nature, of bringing the things out and putting them on the front page.”
Born in Montreal on July 18, 1950, Layton had politics in his blood. His great-grand uncle William Steeves was a Father of Confederation. His great-grandfather Philip Layton came to Canada from Britain as a blind teenager and helped pressure the federal government to bring in a $25-a-month pension for the blind. His grandfather Gilbert Layton was a Quebec cabinet minister under Maurice Duplessis and his father Robert Layton was a Tory cabinet minister in Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government.
That family tradition lives on. Layton’s son Michael followed in his father’s footsteps as a Toronto city councillor.
In addition to learning about politics first-hand from his family, Layton studied political science and economics at McGill University, graduating in 1970. He went on to earn a master’s degree and his PhD in political science at York University in 1983. He wasted no time putting his knowledge from the classroom into practice and ran for Toronto city council in 1982 before he had even finished his doctorate.
Layton didn’t leave the classroom after winning his seat on city council. While making waves at city hall, he taught politics at the University of Toronto, York University and Ryerson.
Layton ran unsuccessfully for mayor in Toronto in 1991, and twice failed to win a seat in the House of Commons that decade. But he kept fighting.
Layton’s profile on the national scene was boosted by his election as president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in 2000, and three years later he made a run for the leadership of the New Democratic Party. He defeated several sitting NDP MPs in the heated race and in his victory speech, Layton talked about hope.
“Hope … is what drives New Democrats,” he said, adding that his party “will always be the party of hope.”
He led the party for a year before he tried for a seat in the House of Commons, in the 2004 federal election, when he was finally victorious in the Toronto-Danforth riding. And in 2006, Layton’s wife, Chow, joined him as the MP for the nearby Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina.