NDP leader Jack Layton succumbs to cancer

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Friends and opponents share loss, express respect and admiration

Federal New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton’s passing early Monday morning provoked sadness, admiration and respect from political challengers and friends.

The 61-year-old leader of the party lost his battle with cancer surrounded by his family at home in Toronto.

In an open letter drafted Saturday and released after his death, Layton put in a final word for his vision of Canada.

“Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic and we’ll change the world,” Layton wrote.

Brian LaBelle, the NDP candidate for the riding of Edmonton-St. Albert in the May 2011 federal election, said he was deeply saddened to hear the news.

“I think he has been a great advocate for Canadian families for as long as he has been involved in politics, so it is a loss not just for his family, but for our whole country.”

LaBelle said his meetings with Layton were always limited, but he was always thoroughly impressed with the man’s energy and vigour.

“It was incredible how much work he put in into trying to get out and meet as many Canadians as he could and give them a voice in Parliament.”

Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason said Layton was a friend and held back tears Monday morning reading a statement at the Alberta Legislature.

“All Canadians mourn the loss of Jack Layton. He impressed Canadians with his courage, his fighting spirit and his humour in the face of adversity.”

Mason said the fight for Layton’s ideals would continue and he was confident they were within reach.

“It means that everyone who wants a more progressive society in Alberta is going to have to work a little harder.”

Mason and LaBelle both agreed Layton had brought the party further than anyone before. Mason said Canada had lost a future leader, but he was confident the party would continue to work on Layton’s ideals.

“The man could have and likely would have been the next prime minister of Canada,” said Mason. “Jack built a strong movement for change. He built a strong part with great depth. We will continue on the quest for a better Alberta, a better Canada, a better world. We will fulfil Jack’s mission.”

Edmonton-St. Albert Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber spent several days aboard the HCMS Halifax with Layton in 2009 as part of a navy program exposing politicians to life aboard a warship.

Rathgeber said, during that voyage, he got to know and respect Layton.

“On the ship, we broke bread, shared some laughs and I got to know Jack as the person, not just the politician. Without a doubt, I am richer for that experience. Today is a very sad day,” said Rathgeber in an email from Quebec on Monday.

Westlock-St. Paul MP Brian Storseth also expressed his condolences.

“His contributions to the life of Canadians and his passion for his work will never be forgotten and will always be missed by the many lives he has touched,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper also expressed his condolences and said he would miss his opponent and his contribution to the debate.

“I salute Jack’s contribution to public life, a contribution that will be sorely missed,” he said in a statement. “I know one thing: Jack gave his fight against cancer everything he had. Indeed, Jack never backed down from any fight.”

Premier Ed Stelmach also saluted Layton’s contribution to public life.

“Jack was an enthusiastic and passionate politician who held strongly to his convictions during his long career in public life. On behalf of my wife Marie, my thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Olivia Chow, and the entire family during this difficult time.”

When Layton announced a renewed battle with cancer earlier this summer, he was optimistic he would return to the House of Commons this fall.

Despite his own loss against the disease, Layton encouraged others living with cancer to continue to fight in his letter.

“Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined and focused on the future,” he wrote.

Layton also spoke to his party members and encouraged them to keep moving forward.

“There will be those who will try to persuade you to give up your cause. But that cause is much bigger than any one leader. Answer them by recommitting with energy and determination to our work.”

Layton’s family asked any mourners to consider a donation to the Broadbent Institute, a social democratic think tank, instead of flowers. The party is also maintaining an online condolence page at www.ndp.ca.

The City of St. Albert is maintaining a book of condolence for Layton at St. Albert Place for anyone wanting to sign. And the provincial NDP, along with Edmonton-Strathcona NDP MP Linda Duncan, are planning a candlelight vigil for Layton at the legislature grounds on Wednesday night.

Layton is set to receive a state funeral on Saturday in Toronto.

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