OTTAWA (Reuters) - Jack Layton, the charismatic leader of Canada’s official opposition, died on Monday just months after guiding his New Democratic Party to its strongest ever performance in the May federal election.
Layton, 61, had almost single-handedly turned his leftist party from the smallest bloc in the House of Commons to the second largest in the House of Commons.
“He passed away peacefully at his home surrounded by family and loved ones,” a statement from his family said.
The cheerful former municipal politician from Toronto had won admiration for his bravado and stamina on the campaign trail, pumping a walking cane in the air soon after a hip operation and treatment for prostate cancer.
Rather than making him look weak, pundits said it gave the ever-cheerful Layton a warmer image than his political rivals, boosting his party’s popularity even as Stephen Harper’s ruling Conservatives were returned to office with a majority.
The NDP’s strong showing meant that the party displaced the Liberals as the official opposition in the House of Commons. It will retain that status until the next election, due in 2015, but will have to redefine itself in Layton’s absence.
Although the Conservatives dismissed the NDP as tax-loving socialists, Layton had nudged the party towards the centre, effectively splitting the left-of-centre vote.
During the 2011 campaign he promised to balance the budget in four years by boosting corporate taxes and raising other revenues to offset tens of billions in new spending.
He also promised a carbon cap-and-trade program and said he would yank billions of dollars in subsidies away from oil companies, while still painting himself as nonthreatening to investors and business.
Layton stepped down temporarily in July in order to fight a new bout of cancer, passing the baton to former labour leader Nycole Turmel, who is serving as interim leader.
Additional reporting by Frank McGurty