There were two big winners in Canada’s recent federal election: Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Jack Layton. Layton may have come in second, so to speak. But he ran away with the congeniality prize.
Still using a cane after hip surgery and treatment for prostate cancer, Layton powered through an intense campaign with a positive message that vaulted his NDP party into official opposition status.
It was very much a feel-good story, featuring heart, dedication and heroic stamina. So Canadians were much saddened to see a frail-looking Layton announce yesterday that he will temporarily step down as NDP leader to focus on recovering from a new cancer threat. (His full statement can be read here.)
On an emotional level, this feels personal. Most of us know a loved one slogging through that particular drill: diagnosis, surgery, chemo or radiation. Some are walking that path themselves. It’s a life-changer, featuring an overload of struggle, hope and recovery…or death. Cancer is a hard journey, and not one we wish to see so often.
On a political level, this is significant too. To some extent, Layton is the NDP, the best-known and most influential figure in that young party. Many of the NDP’s newly-elected MPs are relative newcomers. Layton’s absence creates a vacuum and much uncertainty, which could mean the role of Prime Minister Stephen Harper becomes even more powerful.
The NDP will have to meet and choose an new interim leader. Tobi Cohen of Postmedia News reports there are at least two people in top contention for that role:
While many saw deputy leader Thomas Mulcair as the obvious choice, Layton recommended the party choose newly elected Quebec MP and former Public Service Alliance of Canada president Nycole Turmel.
While those details are worked out, expressions of sympathy and encouragement are pouring in for a popular guy, facing yet another big challenge.
Good luck, Jack! And good luck to everyone else working through these same struggles.