NDP: Layton free to take all the time he needs
NDP Leader Jack Layton, who announced Monday he is battling a new form of cancer, can take all the time he needs to focus on his health issues, his party has said in a strong show of support for the popular leader.
Layton announced Monday that while his recovery from prostate cancer is going well, he is now dealing with a new, undisclosed form of the disease.
Appearing to have lost weight and speaking with a hoarse-sounding voice, the frail-looking Layton said he hoped to be back on the job by September 19 when MPs return to Ottawa from summer break.
However, his party appeared to be laying the groundwork for a possible extended absence.
NDP President Brian Topp told CTV's Canada AM on Tuesday that Layton can take all the time he needs.
"He's helped elect a very strong team in Ottawa who are going to show their chops at this time and he's going to take the time he needs to get better...and hopefully he'll be back by the start of Parliament but if he needs more time that's fine too," Topp said.
He said Layton is the most successful leader the party has ever had, taking the NDP from the fringe of the Canadian political spectrum to official opposition status and "a step away from being the government of Canada."
"And so if he needs a little more time no one's going to begrudge him," Topp said.
He also pointed out that Layton is a fighter with an "amazing spirit," and no one should count him out.
CTV's Chief Political Correspondent Craig Oliver said it's clear the party is taking Layton's illness seriously and preparing for the grim possibility he may not return in the fall.
"I think people have really great affection for Jack in a very personal sense and they're worried about him, we're all worried about him," Oliver said.
"The party is already preparing us to not expect his return in September by saying if he doesn't come back he'll take all the time he needs to get well and nobody will begrudge him that, and that's true."
The NDP leader stunned many with his gaunt appearance when he made the announcement at a hotel in Toronto with his wife Olivia Chow at his side.
He explained that while his battle with prostate cancer has been going "very well," he began experiencing pain in the closing days of the last parliamentary session. Medical tests revealed a second form of cancer.
He did not specify what form of the disease he was now battling but said he received the final test results only last week.
"So, on the advice of my doctors, I am going to focus on treatment and recovery," he said in a raspy voice.
"...I'm going to fight this cancer now, so I can be back to fight for families when Parliament resumes."
In his announcement, Layton recommended Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel, national chairperson of the NDP caucus, as interim leader in his absence.
Oliver said the choice appears strategic. Turmel is not seen as a contender to one day become party leader, and Layton may have chosen her to avoid a power struggle between his possible successors.
"Even that is telling you they are thinking far enough ahead that there might be a point when Jack can not return," Oliver said.
Turmel's appointment needs to be approved by the party caucus before it becomes official.
Layton has battled health problems for close to two years. He was diagnosed in February, 2010, with prostate cancer and then incurred a broken hip in the spring, just before the start of the federal election campaign.
But he kept up a rigorous schedule on the election trail. His party went on to win more seats than it ever had in its history, buoyed in large part by Layton's personal popularity.