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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Nycole Turmel, the newly appointed interim leader of Canada's main opposition New Democratic Party, is a social activist who was the first woman to lead the largest union of Canadian federal civil servants.
The party said on Thursday that Turmel, 68, would be in charge while leader Jack Layton receives treatment for a second bout of cancer.
Layton said on Monday he was stepping down temporarily, less than three months after leading his party to its best ever performance in the May 2 election. He hopes to be back in his job when Parliament resumes in Sept 19.
"I clearly have big shoes to fill... I don't claim to have the kind of charisma that Mr Layton has," Turmel told reporters. "I have my own way to present things."
Turmel, who would not run in a leadership race if Layton quit, speaks heavily accented English which could make it hard for her to connect with Canada's Anglophone majority. French is the second official language.
She was first elected to Parliament on May 2, when the NDP became Canada's main opposition party for the first time. She is also the chair of the party's parliamentary caucus.
Turmel led the Public Service Alliance of Canada from 2000 to 2006, a period that included a three-day national strike to push for better conditions.
She had also been instrumental in securing a major pay equity settlement with the federal government on behalf of female bureaucrats.
Turmel ran into some trouble during the 2011 election campaign for her 2006 decision to support candidates from the separatist Bloc Quebecois. Turmel said she backed the Bloc's social justice policies and did not favor breaking up Canada.
Nycole Turmel was born on Sept 1, 1942.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Janet Guttsman