August 27, 2011 / 9:12 PM / 6 years ago

Canada remembers opposition leader at state funeral

TORONTO (Reuters) - A week of mourning for Jack Layton, who headed Canada’s official opposition, ended on Saturday at a state funeral, a rare honor that marked the passing of a political leader whose popularity crossed party lines.

Jack Layton, the 61-year-old head of the New Democrats, died of cancer on Monday less than four months after leading his left-leaning party to its best election result in history.

In the May 2 vote, the NDP vaulted from the smallest party in the House of Commons to the second largest after an energetic campaign led by Layton.

“He was so civil, so open, so accessible, that he made politics seems as natural and as good as breathing,” Stephen Lewis, a former Ontario NDP leader and Canadian U.N. ambassador, said in his eulogy.

“If there was one word that might sum up Jack Layton’s unabashed social democratic message it would be generosity,” he added, describing Layton’s vision for a gentler, more inclusive Canada and his manifesto of “hope, optimism and love.”

Some 2,300 people gathered in a Toronto concert hall for the service. Guests included Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Conservative, and other prominent politicians.

Among the Canadian music stars attending was former Barenaked Ladies singer Steven Page, who sang “Hallelujah,” written by fellow Canadian Leonard Cohen.

But many of the guests were ordinary Canadians who admired Layton and wished to remember him and pay their respects.

“He was a man that was so rare in Canadian politics in every way, a man of conviction, a man of consequence,” said Katia Berdichevsky, a 34-year-old secondary school teacher who waited in line for nearly six hours to attend the funeral.

A former city councilor, politics professor, environmentalist and musician, Layton advocated for social justice, while pulling his party toward the center during his final national campaign.

“Jack Layton was the reason I started voting,” one person wrote on a concrete wall in a public square outside Toronto City Hall.

That message was one of hundreds scrawled in colored chalk in the square, which became an impromptu memorial to Layton since he died on Monday.

Layton’s body lay in repose inside City Hall for two days before the funeral.

The service on Saturday afternoon followed a procession through downtown led by Layton’s widow, Olivia Chow, who is also an NDP member of parliament.

In honor of Layton, orange lighting will bathe Toronto’s landmark CN Tower, the Peace Tower in the federal capital of Ottawa and Niagara Falls on Saturday evening. Orange is the official color of the NDP.

Editing by Frank McGurty

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