Islanders mourn Jack Layton

Teresa Wright
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Politicians of all stripes on P.E.I. bowed their heads in mourning after hearing news of NDP Leader Jack Layton’s death Monday.

Layton’s passing caused a wave of shock and lament across the country, with thousands taking to news and social media websites to express condolences.

Island NDP Leader James Rodd was reeling from news of the loss.

“It just took the wind right out of me,” he said in an interview with The Guardian Monday morning.

“Everyone in Canada and here on P.E.I. we saw Jack at that news conference in July when he stepped aside and after seeing him at the election, his spirit, his energy… that was quite a blow. But this is 100 times worse than that because we’ve lost the man now.”

A much altered Layton, who was battling prostate cancer and a hip fracture, appeared publicly last month to announce he was taking a temporary leave of absence from the party. He was diagnosed with a new form of cancer and wanted to take time to rest and recover.

Despite his frail appearance and weak voice, he vowed to be back in the House of Commons on Sept. 19 to take on his role as new Official Leader of the Opposition in parliament.

Layton, 61, died peacefully at 4:45 a.m. ET Monday at his Toronto home, surrounded by family and loved ones.

Since his death was announced Canadians far and wide have been sharing deep feelings of grief and mourning.

Rodd said he believes Layton’s genuine care for ordinary Canadians and his ability to convey that care is the reason his death has affected so many.

“It is a loss of ingenuity and creativity and genuineness of a man who was able to earn the respect of many, many Canadians,” he said.

Rodd met with the former leader a number of times over the past several years in his work with the party. He described Layton as a family-oriented man who had a genuine interest in people.

“There’s the political side and the personal side, and Jack was very personable and genuine and that was conveyed, I believe, anytime Jack walked into a room.”

Other political leaders on P.E.I. also offered condolences at news of Layton’s death Monday.

Premier Robert Ghiz issued a statement saying he was very sorry to hear of the former NDP Leader’s passing.

“Mr. Layton was a highly dedicated public servant who worked very hard on behalf of all Canadians,” Ghiz said.

“[His] determination, perseverance and sense of purpose was clear and his contribution to national political life will be missed.”

Opposition Leader Olive Crane also extended condolences Monday.

She described Layton as a “great Canadian” who served both small communities and the country as whole.

“He will be remembered for his remarkable leadership, determination, kindness and dedication to the people of this country,” Crane said in a statement.

She also said he was a politician who “transcended party lines.”

This was evident Monday as politicians from all sides of the spectrum immediately responded to news of Layton’s death with messages of respect and appreciation for his work with the NDP party.

Conservative Egmont MP Gail Shea issued a statement, saying, "Mr. Layton brought a lifelong commitment to issues for which he felt great passion, and that were of importance to Canadians. His personal conviction to work on these issues, along with the courage he displayed in bravely facing cancer is worthy of our respect. Parliament is greatly diminished with the tragic loss of Mr. Layton. His contribution to political discourse in this country will be greatly missed."

Liberal MP for Malpeque Wayne Easter offered condolences and feelings of loss over Layton’s death on his Facebook page within minutes of it being announced.

Easter told The Guardian he believes Layton’s death is an “unbelievably huge” loss, not only for his family and his party, but also for the country.

“It’s a sad moment in terms of Layton’s death but it’s also I think sad for the country and will, by it’s very nature, take some pressure off the government on the issues of the day,” he said.

But Rodd said he believes the party is strong and will weather the loss of its leader, despite the emotional blow Layton’s death has caused its members.

“We have a depth in the party and not to take anything away from Jack’s leadership capacity. He was a true leader, there’s no question about it… but I have no doubt in my mind that the party will remain strong.”

Joe Byrne, who ran for the NDP in the spring election, was halfway around the world in Spain when he heard about Layton’s death and said he was saddened by the news.

“The sense that somebody’s gone to God before his time,” he said.

The message he got from the party before he left Canada was that the plans related to Layton and his time away from politics hadn’t changed, Byrne said.

“That was still what was gonna go ahead.”

Byrne said he thinks Layton’s death has had a profound effect on so many people because he was able to strike a chord of hope that said everyone could be better together than by themselves.

“We all understand that and we look to our leaders to provide us with that message, that confidence that together we do this so much better than by ourselves,” he said.

Organizations: House of Commons, NDP

Geographic location: Canada, Toronto, Spain

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