Local politicians are offering condolences following the death of New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton. The 61-year-old passed away Monday morning in his Toronto home, a month after he stepped aside as leader to fight a second bout of cancer.
"Really our thoughts are with the family because that's who's suffering most," said Burnaby-Douglas New Democrat MP Kennedy Stewart, who also recently lost a family member to cancer. Stewart characterized Layton as a team-builder, an academic and an inspiration to become active in politics.
"He was a very warm person," Stewart said. "It was never his way or the highway. Ö Everybody was treated with the same level of respect. Those are hard things to replace."
Burnaby-New Westminster MP Peter Julian said the NDP is struggling to deal with Jack's death at this point.
"No one expected this. There was some concern he might be unavailable for perhaps a number of months. I think we were all just stubbornly hoping he would be over this, because he's just such a fighter," he said.
In 2004, Julian was part of Layton's first caucus, which has grown from 19 members to 103.
"We really got to know each other in Ottawa through the fall of 2004, after I was first elected," Julian said. "With Jack, what people saw in public was what
people saw in private, too."
Julian pointed out that Layton spent just over 100 days as leader of the Official Opposition.
"It's kind of cruel fate that he was snatched away from us. I think Canada needed him so much and Canadians needed him so much," he said.
Layton really cared about people, Julian added.
"Meeting people was a real privilege. I think that's why people warmed to him so readily, because he just cared about folks incredibly. Once people met him for the first time, they became real fans of his," he said. "He'll be very difficult to replace, there's no doubt about that. Ö He was such an inspiring, gifted, talented leader. He leaves very big shoes to fill."
Burnaby Coun. Sav Dhaliwal said Jack Layton's death is not just a loss to the NDP but to the entire country. Canadians, regardless of their politics, have been touched by his passion and hard work, he said.
"I can see everyone nodding their heads for his vision of a caring Canada," Dhaliwal said. "Unfortunately, he didn't get to see that vision to fruition."
Dhaliwal, a member of the Burnaby Citizens' Association and the B.C. NDP, also extended his condolences to Layton's partner Olivia Chow and the family.
"I'm sorry to see this has happened at the age of 61 -such a young age," he said.
Paul Forseth, a former Conservative MP, also shared his thoughts on Layton's death.
"Jack was a leader, and he engaged in life instead of just observing it. As far as we know, he played by the political rules and fought his battle in the public forum of democracy. I think many of his ideas were harmful to Canada, but at least he was not secret about it, and he was willing to inspire people and work hard in the system and was a democrat that accepted the common sense of common people," Forseth said.
"We can sincerely mourn his passing and take the best that he showed us. Ö That's the best way to remember him -take his advice and engage and build a better country."
Forseth said Layton's death leaves a lot of uncertainty on the political landscape. As for speculation on who will take the NDP's helm, Forseth said Outremont MP Thomas Mulcair may be a possibility.
Mulcair, Forseth pointed out, was the first high-profile New Democrat to get elected in Quebec, where more than half of the NDP's MPs hold office.
Julian said no one is talking about who will replace Layton yet.
"We're all dealing with the shock and sorrow. It will be a while yet before anyone wants to think about anything beyond that," he said.
Julian and Stewart, like all NDP MPs across the country, have books in their offices for people to leave messages of condolences. Julian plans on taking his to Toronto for Layton's funeral on Saturday, Aug. 27 at Roy Thomson Hall.
Prior to that, Layton's casket will be laying in state at Ottawa's Parliament Hill on Aug. 24 and 25 so dignitaries, MPs and the public can pay their final respects.
Layton penned his last letter to Canadians in anticipation of his own death.
He suggested interim leader Nycole Turmel stay on till a new successor is chosen and recommended the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the New Year.
Layton also thanked the tens of thousands of Canadians who wished him well and encouraged others struggling with cancer not to give up hope.
He also encouraged his party to keep working with energy and determination.
He signed off with this statement: "My friends, 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."
To read Layton's full letter, go to Jennifer Moreau's blog, Community Conversations, at www.burnabynow.com.