The head of Canada’s opposition party said on Monday that he would take a leave of absence as leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) to treat an undisclosed form of cancer.
Jack Layton, who announced in February that he had been battling prostate cancer, said on Monday that his battle with prostate cancer is going well, but recent tests show he has a new form of cancer. Layton, 61, not did elaborate on what type of cancer was discovered in the results he received last week.
Layton, known for his feisty battles as party leader with Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, appeared gaunt and sounded raspy as he made his announcement on Monday.
“In the closing days of the most recent session of the House of Commons, I suffered from some stiffness and pain,” he said. “On the advice of my doctors, I’m going to focus on treatment and recovery. I am hopeful and optimistic about the personal battle that lies before me in the weeks to come.”
The NDP, a union-backed party with socialist roots, took Canadians by surprise during the May 2 federal election by winning official opposition status for the first time in its 50-year history. The party gained 103 seats, up from a previous 37, several of which were won in Quebec.
The triumph in the province rendered its traditional leading party, the Bloc Quebecois separatists, nearly obsolete.
The Liberals also suffered a crushing defeat against the NDP, when the election results left the party with 34 seats, down from 77 in the 308-seat parliament. That shocked many observers because the Liberals had ruled Canada for much of the last century and had led the official opposition party during the previous Conservative minority government, before Harper won a coveted majority earlier this year.
Many credited the NDP’s election success to Layton, who, despite his bout with cancer and hip surgery in early March, hit the campaign trail hard on a platform of ensuring transparent government, improving health services, rewarding job creators, strengthening pensions and providing greater support to families.
Layton said he hopes to return to work by the time parliament resumes on Sept. 19.
In the meantime, he recommended an interim leader, lawmaker Nycole Turmel, national chair of the parliamentary caucus.
NDP President Brian Topp said on Monday that he would consult the party’s caucus and then convene a meeting of the party’s federal council to appoint an interim leader.
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