Jack Layton takes two-month leave to battle new cancer

NDP leader steps down temporarily, says he hopes to return by September.

Photo of Jack Layton courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

There was surprising news this morning when federal NDP leader Jack Layton called a news conference to announce that he is stepping down temporarily to battle a new cancer.

Canadian Press has the story:

TORONTO -- Jack 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.

The 61-year-old politician announced he was battling prostate cancer in February 2010, and Layton says recent tests have revealed a new form of cancer that requires further treatment.

Appearing at a news conference Monday in Toronto with his wife and fellow politician Olivia Chow by his side, Layton appeared to have lost considerable weight and his voice sounded weak.

He said he started to feel pain and stiffness around the end of the most recent session of the House of Commons and sought tests at a Toronto hospital after Parliament broke for the summer.

The tests showed his battle with prostate cancer is going well, but they revealed another form of cancer. Layton didn't elaborate on what type of cancer was discovered.

"On the advice of my doctors, I'm going to focus on treatment and recovery,'' he said, his voice sounding raspy. "I will therefore be taking a temporary leave of absence as leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada. I'm going to fight this cancer now so I can be back to fight for families when Parliament resumes.''

Party president Brian Topp will consult the NDP caucus and then convene a meeting of the party's federal council to appoint an interim leader by Thursday afternoon.

Layton says he hopes to return to work by the time Parliament resumes on Sept. 19.

"I wouldn't bet against Jack Layton,'' said Topp.

Layton says he has recommended Nycole Turmel, national chairwoman of the NDP caucus, fill in as leader during his absence.

"She's an experienced national leader in both official languages and she will do an excellent job as our national leader interim leader,'' he said.

Layton's health had come into question before the spring election after he underwent hip surgery in early March, just weeks before the start of the campaign.

But he put most of the concerns to rest as he maintained a rigorous schedule throughout the campaign, starting out with a heavy, painful limp and finishing brandishing his now-trademark cane in the air in victory.

The NDP went on to score more seats than ever and capture official Opposition status for the first time in its 50-year history.

"I am hopeful and optimistic about the personal battle that lies before me in the weeks to come,'' he said. "I am very hopeful and optimistic that our party will continue to move forward.''

Topp said the caucus will meet Wednesday morning to discuss Layton's recommendation.

He said he does not know what type of cancer Layton has or what treatment he will receive. Asked why Layton has not disclosed the type of cancer he now has, Topp said he believes Layton has told the public and the party everything they need to know.

After a couple of failed attempts, Layton moved into federal politics in 2003, taking over as leader of the party. He only had the support of two federal caucus members at the time, Svend Robinson and Libby Davies.

He quickly won over the caucus. But the electorate was more reluctant.

In his first federal campaign in 2004, he aimed to increase the party's standings from 13 seats to 150, recalls Topp. He won 19 seats, after declaring that social-spending cuts under the Liberals had resulted in the deaths of homeless people, and then losing the support of Canadian Auto Workers president Buzz Hargrove to the Paul Martin camp.

In 2006, he was able to solidify his party's vote, adding an extra 10 NDP seats. And in 2008, he was able to gain some support in non-traditional NDP ridings, expanding the party's reach in Quebec, Edmonton and parts of Atlantic Canada.

Layton's son Mike, a city councillor in Toronto, said via Twitter that he's moved by the support his family has received.

"He's a fighter and stronger from your support in this battle,'' he tweeted.

Layton will have Chow by his side as he fights the disease. An MP and longtime politician in her own right, Chow is also his closest adviser, and successfully battled thyroid cancer.

As questions about his health arose before the campaign, insiders said Chow would not have allowed him to hit the trail if she felt he wasn't up to it.

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