Jack Layton takes temporary leave as NDP leader. What’s next?

Jack Layton takes temporary leave as NDP leader. What’s next?

(Image: Matt Jiggins)

Yesterday Jack Layton announced that he was temporarily leaving his position as leader of the NDP to battle a new form of cancer, and the outpouring of well wishes that followed was a nice reminder that despite the acrimony among Canadian politicians, these are all humans capable of some moments of genuine kindness. Rob Ford released a statement hearkening back to his first term on council, when he learned Layton “has a fighting spirit and the will and determination to beat this.” Stephen Harper also released a statement offering his family’s heartfelt support to Layton’s.

Of course, people who obsess about politics couldn’t help but consider what this means for the NDP and for Ottawa. Hoping for the best (i.e., a September return for Layton), the official opposition is effectively in limbo for the summer, but that probably won’t be a problem since Parliament isn’t sitting anyway. The Toronto Star quotes strategist Tim Powers as calling Layton’s pick for the interim NDP leader, the party’s caucus chair Nycole Turmel, a “political master stroke”—it will tamp down any early manoeuvrings to try and lock down the leadership from other ambitious MPs, should Layton not return to Parliament.

If, for whatever reason, Layton should have to make his leave permanent, most observers are saying it would hurt the NDP, a party that more than any others relied on the personal charisma of its leader during the last election. And that’s fair—with the possible exception of the Conservatives, no party has been so strongly shaped by its leader as the NDP under Layton. But also like the Conservatives, the NDP has a handful of MPs who could make strong leadership contenders (though Tom Mulcair is widely believed to be the most likely successor, the Canadian political scene has made a lot of conventional wisdom look foolish recently). While Layton’s absence at the top would be a huge loss for the NDP, the party that Layton has built since taking over almost 10 years ago is actually quite prepared to build on his leadership—though it’s not a scenario that anyone at NDP HQ had seriously considered until yesterday, and one that nobody in Ottawa is hoping for.

Jack Layton’s courageous, gracious fight (Editorial) [Globe and Mail]
Can the NDP survive Jack Layton’s health crisis? [Globe and Mail]
Layton’s health woes spark concerns for party [Toronto Star]