NDP Leader Jack Layton speaks at a new conference in Toronto on Monday. Layton has been diagnosed with another form of cancer and is taking a temporary leave of absence as leader of the federal New Democrats to fight it. -Photo by The Canadian Press
A St. John’s man who considers Jack Layton a friend and mentor thinks the NDP leader’s dedication to physical fitness will help him in his latest battle against cancer.
“He’s always worked on his health,” says Bruce Pearce.
“He enjoys being fit, being healthy. I just think that is really going to help.”
Layton, who has previously fought prostate cancer, announced Monday he has been diagnosed with a new form of cancer.
He’s taking leave from his role as the leader of the federal New Democrats.
Pearce, a well-known advocate for the homeless, studied under Layton at York University in the mid-’80s and worked closely with him from 1988 to ’91, when Layton was involved in municipal politics.
He went on to serve as Layton’s executive assistant from 1995 to ’97, when the politician was on Metro Toronto council.
Pearce says the experiences were positive.
“He’s been a mentor. I was a young person when I first met him,” Pearce says.
“There’s so much talk in the world about politicians and not a lot of it is very positive — and I understand that — but I don’t hesitate to say I worked for Jack Layton and he was a consummate professional, a great person to work for,” Pearce said. “He served constituents well and focused on the higher goals politics could help achieve.”
Pearce, a development worker with the St. John’s Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness, was doing his master’s in environmental studies when he took Layton’s municipal government courses.
“It was a very interesting introduction to Jack. We were given steno pads and we sat in the council chamber and we actually had to analyse who had power, where was it in the room and how were people using it, for good or ill. … That got me past the flow charts and graphs and how things were supposed to work and into the real world.”
Pearce says Layton showed the same ingenuity as a councillor, working on a range of initiatives such as redesigning city government so its bottom line included a focus on human health.
“He was in the forefront of a lot of innovations in (Toronto).”
Pearce, who also helped co-ordinate the Newfoundland effort in Layton’s successful bid to become NDP leader in 2003, has kept in touch with his friend and sent him a note Monday after hearing the news.
“He’s definitely facing a serious battle. He certainly looked different. I thought it was brave of him to come forward and talk to people directly in the midst of it.”
Pearce adds he was heartened by the response to Layton’s announcement from the media, public and politicians.
“It showed the better side of what we can be in politics. And I hope he’s getting the best care possible and I hope he can beat this.”