Layton to be honoured with rare state funeral

Jack Layton, who died Monday morning at the age of 61, will be honoured in a state funeral to be held Saturday in Toronto.

Layton's widow Olivia Chow accepted Prime Minister Stephen Harper's offer of a state funeral, Harper's communications director Dimitri Soudas said Monday.

Soudas said in a statement that Canadians "will have an opportunity to salute Jack Layton's contribution to public life as well as offer their heartfelt condolences, their thoughts and prayers to Mr. Layton's family."

Soudas explained that state funerals are only automatic in cases of current and former governors general, current and former prime ministers, and sitting members of cabinet.

"It is possible for the prime minister on behalf of the Government of Canada to accord the honour of a state funeral to other eminent Canadians, should it be deemed appropriate," he said. "Prime Minister Harper has exercised his discretion and has offered Ms. Chow a state funeral for Jack Layton. She has accepted."

The government protocol office is working with the NDP and Layton's family on details.

Canadians mourning Layton will have the chance to leave messages of condolence across the country in the days leading up to the funeral.

NDP MP constituency offices will all have books of condolences for the public to sign prior to the funeral and there will be books at Toronto City Hall and on Parliament Hill.

The NDP has set up a section on its website for those who want to leave messages for Layton's family and friends. They're asking for donations to the Broadbent Institute in memory of Layton in lieu of flowers.

The Broadbent Institute is an NDP-affiliated think tank that was announced at the party's 50th anniversary convention in June. It's named for former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, a close friend of Layton's.

Layton had fought prostate cancer since 2010, but in July announced he faced a second, undisclosed cancer.

The last state funeral was on July 3, 2009, for former governor general Roméo LeBlanc. It was held in Memramcook, N.B.