Canada mourns loss of gay-friendly opposition leader

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The Right Honourable Jack Layton, MP, the charismatic politican who guided the New Democrat party into the position of being the dominant opposition party in Parliament, while battling cancer, has died. Mr. Layton was 61.

In a statement released by the NDP, a spokesman said that Mr. Layton died peacefully on Monday morning at his Toronto home, surrounded by family and loved ones.

Only a few weeks ago Mr. Layton had held a press conference during which he indicated that he was fighting a second bout with an unspecified new form of cancer.

His gaunt appearance shocked many Canadians, who had witnessed a triumphant Layton lead his party to its historic win in the May federal elections, gaining a total of 103 parliamentary seats up from the previous 37 held.

Initially the campaign race commenced as a straight battle between Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the opposition party Liberals’ Michael Ignatieff. The wins gave them official opposition status in the government.

Layton, who had been recovering from prostate cancer and a broken hip, carried a cane and hobbled throughout this past spring. Campaigning hard for his party, his health actually seemed to improve while the elections drew nearer.

A legendary progressive and committed friend of the LGBT community, Layton was a vigorous supporter of HIV/AIDS activism in the early years of the pandemic. In 2005, Layton was credited by many for the success of Canada’s national same-sex marriage bill when he was the only party leader to whip for supporting votes.

His cheerful, upbeat message, his strong performance in the debates and his popularity in his native French-speaking province of Quebec, went over well with voters.

Prime Minster Harper said he was deeply saddened by Layton’s death.

“When I last spoke with Jack following his announcement in July, I wished him well and he told me he’d be seeing me in the House of Commons in the fall. This, sadly, will no longer come to pass. On behalf of all Canadians, I salute Jack’s contribution to public life, a contribution that will be sorely missed,” Harper said in a statement.

The flag on the peace tower on Parliament Hill was lowered to half-staff.

Layton came from a political family. He was the son of a former federal Progressive Conservative cabinet minister and the grandson of a prominent provincial politician in Quebec.

Layton was also a former longtime Toronto city councilor known for his work advocating on behalf of the LGBT community, poor and the homeless.

“His commitment to social justice and equality and a better Canada in the world and in home, I think that’s how people saw him, they saw him as someone who deeply, deeply cared for people,” said New Democrat lawmaker and colleague Libby Davies this morning.

The US Ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson, expressed sorrow on behalf of the American nation saying: “I will never forget the image of Jack campaigning as the happy warrior. His energy, enthusiasm and passion for politics and for the Canadian people were undeniable.”