Towards the end of a grueling campaign, there was talk of whether beloved NDP Leader Jack Layton would find himself recouping from a hard-fought election in Stornoway or 24 Sussex. But the gain once thought impossible seemed within reach as Layton urged all viewers to "imagine" their political hopes and dreams and put him in the prime minister's house. After sweeping many traditionally Liberal and Bloc strongholds into the Official Opposition role, Layton announced he would take a leave of absence to treat cancer. He had previously come back after treatments for prostate cancer, but this was what they called a new form of cancer. Both veteran and fledgling NDP MPs were rattled, but rallied behind Layton's pick for interim leader, Nycole Turmel. In mid-August the country learned that Layton wouldn't be able to make his party's summer caucus meetings in Quebec City, but that he was still planning to be back when the House of Commons returned Sept. 19.
Layton died on Aug. 22, 2011 in Toronto. His wife, Olivia Chow, and children, Sarah and Michael made the announcement. In a letter written on his deathbed, Layton urged Canadians that they had made the right choice in the last election and that his party would thrive in his absence. Friends and colleagues remembered Layton as a guy "to have a beer with," and Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he regretted never sitting down for a jam session with Layton. All over the country, impromptu memorials sprang up. On Aug. 24 thousands turned out in Ottawa to pay tribute at Layton's coffin as he returned to the capital one last time. His state funeral took place on Saturday, Aug. 27 and was an emotional but un-stuffy event featuring music, memories and even laughter.
Interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel vowed to carry on Layton's work, staying in her position until the party elected a new leader. When parliament returned in September, MPs praised Layton for his courage and optimism, and commended his widow, Olivia Chow, for her grace and composure throughout her painful loss.
By November the bid for leadership of the federal NDP had become a nine-way race.
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