Opposition leader Layton steps down to battle cancer

Mon Jul 25, 2011 4:05pm EDT
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By Cameron French

TORONTO (Reuters) - The leader of Canada's main opposition party, limping heavily and looking pale and drawn, said on Monday he would step down temporarily because of cancer but vowed to return once Parliament resumes in mid-September.

It is a second bout of cancer for charismatic Jack Layton, who led his left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) to its best ever showing in the May 2 election, leapfrogging ahead of the Liberals to become the second largest party in Parliament after the ruling Conservatives.

But his gaunt appearance prompted questions as to whether he would resume his job.

Layton, 61, was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year, and also fractured his hip in March. He said tests showed he was suffering from a new kind of cancer.

"On the advice of my doctors I'm going to focus on treatment and recovery. I will therefore be taking a temporary leave of absence as leader of the New Democratic Party," he told a news conference in a wavering voice.

"I'm going to fight this cancer now so that I can be back to fight for families when Parliament resumes."

The news means neither of Canada's big opposition parties have a permanent leader -- the Liberals named Bob Rae as interim leader after a crushing defeat on May 2.

NDP president Brian Topp said the party's caucus will meet this week and choose an interim leader by Thursday. The House of Commons will resume on Sept 19.   Continued...

<p>New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jack Layton speaks at a news conference in Toronto, July 25, 2011. REUTERS/Mark Blinch</p>