Canadian opposition leader Jack Layton dies at 61

Added by on August 23, 2011

Jack Layton and his wife Olivia Chow / Reuters

Jack Layton, the leader of the New Democratic Party and Canada’s official opposition, died on Monday aged 61, after a second battle with cancer.

Layton passed away early Monday morning at his Toronto home, surrounded by his wife, Olivia Chow, and his children. Layton stepped down as party leader last month to fight his illness.

In May the New Democratic Party, or NDP, won landslide victory in May with the left-leaning party garnered enough votes in the federal election to claim the role of Canada’s official opposition for the first time in the party’s history.

In February Layton announced that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Despite his diagnosis, he campaigned during spring to lead his party to a landmark second place win. He also broke his hip and had surgery just before he stared campaigning.

On July 25, he announced that he was temporarily stepping down as party leader to fight a newly diagnosed ‘non-prostate’ form of cancer.

Layton began is federal political career in 2003 when he became leader of the left-leaning NDP, a long third place Canadian federal political party. He was elected as a member of parliament in 2004 and continued on to lead the party to claim 103 parliament seats, up from 37, unseating the long second-place Liberal party.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper paid tribute to Layton’s “contribution to public life, a contribution that will be sorely missed.” The Canadian flag was flown at half-mast on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the country’s capital city.

In a letter Layton wrote two days before he died, where he was planning to announce that he would step down as party leader to fight his cancer, Layton said to, “…Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer.”

Layton will be buried in an open to the public state funeral on Saturday.