With Layton sick, NDP says will fight on

Wed Jul 27, 2011 2:39pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The main opposition party in Canada, stunned by its leader's serious illness, elected an interim chief on Wednesday and dismissed speculation that the party could start to break up.

New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton, who took the left-leaning party to its best ever performance in the May 2 election, announced on Monday he was stepping down temporarily to deal with a second bout of cancer.

Layton, who looked gravely ill, vowed to return for the resumption of Parliament on Sept 19. The party relies heavily on his charisma and experience and some political observers predict the NDP could struggle without him.

"These are terrible circumstances, no doubt about that," NDP president Brian Topp told reporters. "(We) don't celebrate what is happening here. But I think we've got the bench strength in this team to step forward and handle it."

NDP members of Parliament met in Ottawa on Wednesday and, after consulting with Layton by phone, nominated political newcomer Nycole Turmel to be interim leader. The party's leadership will officially confirm the choice on Thursday.

Turmel, in her late 60s, would not be a candidate if Layton failed to return and the party had to run a leadership race.

"She'll do a great job. More importantly we know she's just keeping the spot warm for Jack," Member of Parliament David Christopherson told reporters.

Despite such optimism, the party is already making clear that Layton could be off work longer than planned.   Continued...

<p>New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jack Layton shakes hands with NDP President Brian Topping (L) at a news conference in Toronto, July 25, 2011. REUTERS/Mark Blinch</p>