Layton was voice and heart of the NDP

Mon Aug 22, 2011 1:16pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Jack Layton, who died of cancer on Monday, was the charismatic voice and heart of the New Democratic Party, which he led to its best ever performance in the May 2 election.

Layton, 61, took over the NDP in 2003, when it was floundering on the margins of Canadian politics. He pulled the party toward the center while stressing the importance of social justice and he built support with a beaming smile and his trademark good-natured enthusiasm.

Layton, generally seen as the party leader that voters would most like to have a beer with, made clear he had little interest in old-style adversarial politics and would cooperate with other parties to advance his agenda.

In an open letter written two days before he died, he said that New Democrats would "put a compelling new alternative" to voters.

"Give them a careful hearing, consider the alternatives and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together," he wrote.

Under Layton's leadership, the NDP improved its standing in the elections of 2004, 2006 and 2008. In 2011, thanks to a near flawless campaign, it vaulted from 36 seats to 103 seats to became the main opposition party for the first time.


Layton was diagnosed with prostate cancer in early 2010 and had surgery on a fractured hip weeks before the 2011 campaign began. Yet he turned his illness into an asset, waving his cane as a symbol of resistance and defiance.   Continued...

<p>NDP leader Jack Layton delivers a keynote speech at the party's 50th Anniversary Convention in Vancouver, British Columbia June 19, 2011. REUTERS/Ben Nelms</p>