Jack Layton’s temporary resignation as leader of the official opposition will test the roots that the party has made in Quebec. Layton’s young caucus faces the very real possibility of returning to Parliament without le bon Jack, the man who propelled the party to their best ever showing and was responsible for the election of over 50 MPs in the province of Quebec alone. Although Mr. Layton has set his return for the beginning of the fall session, the new NDP caucus may have to begin the session with an inexperienced Parliamentarian that could see the Liberals become the face of the opposition.
Layton’s illness could prove to be difficult for his young and inexperienced caucus. How will the people of Quebec react to their new representation if Parliament resumes without Jack Layton at the helm of the party? There is a belief that the NDP have what it takes to carry on without Jack Layton but I can’t see this happening. The NDP’s phenomenal Quebec surge in popularity before the May 2 election ultimately resulted in the Orange Crush which saw the NDP essentially sweep Quebec. The NDP knows very well that they owe this showing to their leader. The people of Quebec that voted for their new representatives did not vote for their candidate, they voted for Mr. Layton. Jack Layton was the embodiment of the party. Couple this with, an apparently, unappealing Liberal leader and an incredibly strong western Tory base, and you have Quebec’s Orange Crush. In my riding, the NDP candidate didn’t actually start to campaign until the polls turned in his favour. When he did public canvassing, he carried only one poster of himself and two of Jack Layton. The young people that were won over by the NDP were certainly not won over by the individual candidates. They were won over by the passionate and charismatic Jack Layton. There is no better example of this than Ruth-Ellen Brosseau who managed to win her riding while vacationing in Las Vegas.
What will the NDP look like without their moustachioed leader should Parliament resume without him? This is a very real question that the NDP caucus will have to discuss. Putting Layton’s cancer aside, he is 61 years old. One wonders how long he can continue doing this while maintaining a public battle with cancer, a bad hip, and a large, young caucus. Layton has turned to Nycole Turmel to lead the party in his absence. A long time union leader, Mme. Turmel seems like a reasonable selection for the job. If only because Mr. Layton wants one of his two deputies to succeed him as permanent leader when the time comes. Layton has to start thinking about his future and what he will do when he beats this cancer. With Layton’s young caucus, does he have a face in there that can win over Quebec like his does? I hardly think that Mr. Mulcaire can and I don’t think that the large separatist ridings that the NDP now represents will embrace English born Libby Davies as party leader.
The party has to remain united in their leader’s absence. With the party’s leader temporarily out of the political scene, the spotlight now shifts to individual MPs who will have to step their game up and become the faces of the party. Should Layton miss the September beginning of Parliament, his absence could either show Quebec and Canada that the party is more than just Jack, or could show Quebec and Canada that the party is all about Jack. While Mr. Layton takes his time beating cancer, the caucus has to discuss ways to show the country that they can be a strong opposition party without Mr. Layton. The party needs to be every bit as strong, courageous, and fearless as Mr. Layton is being right now. As a Liberal, I wish Mr. Layton a safe and quick recovery in his battle.
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