A frail-looking Jack Layton has announced he is taking a leave of absence from his party’s leadership to fight a “new form of cancer” that requires immediate treatment.
The NDP leader, stunning many in the room with his gaunt appearance and hoarse voice, made the announcement at a hotel in Toronto with his wife Olivia Chow at his side.
He explained that while his battle with prostate cancer has been going “very well,” he began experiencing pain in the closing days of the last parliamentary session. Medical tests revealed a second form of cancer.
He did not specify what form of the disease he was now battling but said he received the final test results only last week.
“So, on the advice of my doctors, I am going to focus on treatment and recovery,” he said.
“…I’m going to fight this cancer now, so I can be back to fight for families when Parliament resumes.”
Layton appeared to have lost a good deal of weight since his last public appearance, which was on June 28, during a garden party at his official residence, Stornoway.
Layton insisted he was “hopeful and optimistic about the personal battle that lies before me in the weeks to come.”
He said he has requested that NDP President Brian Topp convene a meeting of the party’s federal council to appoint an interim leader. Layton said he will recommend Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel for the job.
“The interim leader will serve until I resume my duties,” the NDP leader said. “I intend to do so when Parliament meets on Sept. 19.”
Layton has battled health problems for close to two years. He was diagnosed in February, 2010, with prostate cancer and then incurred a broken hip in the spring, just before the start of the federal election campaign.
But he kept up a rigorous schedule throughout the election trail. His party went on to win more seats than it ever has in its history, buoyed in good measure by Layton’s personal popularity.
I saw the announcement live and I can’t help but ask two questions, the first reflected in the title of this post. Is Jack Layton’s move really temporary or is it actually permanent? Despite the positive spin put on this announcement by Layton himself, he looks very sickly. Long gone is the athletic and energetic politician who helped the New Democratic Party (NDP) make significant gains in the previous election. Layton’s battle against prostate cancer has reduced him to a shell of his former self, and now that we know he is also fighting another form of cancer, I don’t know if he will pull through. Though I am not a fan of Jack or his politics, my thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.
The second question concerns the fate of the Layton’s political party following this announcement. Can the NDP thrive, let alone survive without their charismatic leader? My opinion, as well as the opinion of many political commentators, is that it was Jack’s charisma, not his politics, that allowed the NDP to make serious political gains in the previous election. Looking at the list of possible interim leaders, however, I don’t not see anyone who’s even the least bit charismatic. Matter of fact, considering the support those like Libby Davies have within the NDP right now, they might very well select the wrong person to lead and that will be politically disastrous. I seriously doubt that Canadians would support, let alone tolerate, a political party that pushes anti-Israel and “9/11 Truther” legislation.
Despite what was said in the press conference, I do think this is the end of Jack Layton’s political career. I also think that this is the beginning of a turn in the NDP’s political fortunes. I might be wrong, and I hope I am wrong about the former point, but I doubt it. We will see what happens in the coming months, but I do feel this announcement is bad news for Layton, the NDP and their supporters.