NDP Leader Jack Layton speaks to the media as his wife Olivia Chow looks on at a news conference in Toronto Monday. Layton announced he has been diagnosed with another form of cancer and is taking a temporary leave from his leadership duties. — Photo by The Canadian Press
The local members of NDP Leader Jack Layton’s Opposition caucus were just as surprised as the rest of the country was by news he will take a temporary leave of absence to seek cancer treatment.
“I knew he needed a rest and I’m not surprised he’d need to take one, but I’m sad to hear it’s because of a new cancer,” said Jack Harris, MP for St. John’s East, who has sat with Layton in Parliament since 2008.
Layton made the announcement in Toronto Monday, saying he’s taking leave to fight a new cancer not the prostate cancer he was diagnosed with in 2010 — that fight is gong well.
Not long after he began receiving treatment for the prostate cancer, Layton was back on the campaign trail leading to his party’s success in the federal election. The party took 102 seats to form the Official Opposition for the first time in its 50-year history.
Layton told media he intends to return to his post as the Opposition leader in time for Parliament’s fall reopening on Sept. 19.
Harris said the party will be right there with him.
“Jack has indicated he’s ready to come back in September, and we have a strong new caucus with 103 members who are ready to (complete) the mandate we were given by Canadians to be the Official Opposition and to challenge Stephen Harper and work to build a better Canada,” he said.
“Jack has always been very optimistic, and I don’t think it’s time to start counting him out.”
Neither Harris nor his St. John’s-based colleague in Ottawa, Ryan Cleary, knew about Layton’s illness prior to Monday’s announcement.
Cleary noted Layton did not look or sound well during his news conference on Monday, but, like Harris, he believes his leader will do all he can to return to his post in September.
“Jack Layton is a fighter. You saw that during the election when he had a broken hip, and when he was fighting cancer,” he said. “If anyone can do it, he can do it.”
While he knew an announcement was being made that afternoon, Cleary said he was unaware of its content.
“As soon as we saw Jack Layton on TV, we knew it was going to be a health announcement,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. I’m devastated.”
Provincial NDP Leader Lorraine Michael heard Layton speak at the party’s federal convention in late June.
“He was strong, and it seems that he certainly had some symptoms there, based on what he said (Monday),” said Michael. “All of us felt that strength, hope, and optimism for the future.”
Michael, too, is optimistic he can beat cancer a second time.
“If this can be beaten, then Jack Layton is the one who is going to beat it.”
—With files from the Canadian Press