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Remembering Jack Layton: 'The heart and soul of politics'

Less than four months after leading the New Democrats to official opposition status, Jack Layton lost his battle with cancer on Aug. 22, 2011.
The back room of the Laughing Buddha was filled with people paying tribute to the late Jack Layton Aug. 22. From left, Gertie Kitts, Dale McDonough and Marjorie Reynolds raise a glass in honour of the former federal NDP leader, who died Aug. 22, 2011. Photo by Laurel Myers.

Less than four months after leading the New Democrats to official opposition status, Jack Layton lost his battle with cancer on Aug. 22, 2011.

To mark the one-year anniversary of the former federal NDP leader's passing, special memorials were held across the country.

In Sudbury, the back room of the Laughing Buddha on Elgin Street was filled with supporters, who raised a glass in Layton's honour.

Sudbury MP Glenn Thibeault, who organized the festivities, said the evening was an opportunity "to look back over the year and celebrate the accomplishments of Jack."

"It's one of those happy-sad times — we've lost a great man and for many of us, a great friend," he said. "It's part of that whole mourning process, but at the same time, it's celebrating (what) we've been able to do since that time."

Thibeault spoke fondly of Layton as both a mentor and a true friend.

"He really helped me to learn and grow as a politician, but at the same time ... for the four years that I knew him, I really got to know Jack as a person. He was my friend, not only my leader."

What set Layton apart as a leader was his strong connection to the people, Thibeault said.

"He would have been as at home in here drinking a beer with us as in the House," the Sudbury MP said. "He knew his job was a politician and a leader of the party, but at the same time, he knew that he was still a person and never wanted to get away from identifying with every day folk."

Thibeault said it now falls on the party's MPs to "continue to carry forth that vision and find that resolve to move Jack's vision forward."

As Jack always said, 'Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.'

Andrea Horwath,
Ontario NDP leader

Gertie Kitts has been an NDP supporter her entire life. A year and a half ago, the 86-year-old Sudbury woman was made a life member of the party. 

She described Layton as "a wonderful man."

"I went door-knocking with him in a low-rental area during Dave Battaino's provincial campaign," she said. "It showed the kind of man he was. That's one of my fondest memories of Jack."

She said she attended the event because "Jack was such an important part of our party. He brought our party so far."

While she admitted she was worried how the party would fare after Layton's passing, she said the progress over the last year has been "phenomenal."

"They've far surpassed my wishes," she said. "I think Tom Mulcair is a very strong man. This is the first time the NDP has been official opposition ... Jack handed that legacy onto Tom, and Tom has carried it beautifully."

To Dale McDonough, Layton "represented the heart and soul of politics." 

"He was able to connect with people, which I think is really the true vortex of all politics," she said. "He was able to bring out people that probably wouldn't be involved in politics ... He represented community in the broadest and deepest sense."

McDonough first met Layton while living in Toronto, after joining a community group which Layton had spearheaded.

"But everybody felt that they knew Jack because he was able to touch that sense of community with everybody," she said.

She said Layton left behind a legacy of hope.

"The hope continues. That's what he represented to me was hope."

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath issued a statement to mark the one-year anniversary of Layton's death.

"As difficult as his passing was, and at times still is, I find comfort in knowing that his call for love, hope and optimism has inspired Canadians from coast to coast. He set an example for us all. He brought us together.

"As we remember his passing and celebrate his life, let’s remember that if we work hard and believe in change, we can change the world," she continued. "As Jack always said, 'Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.'”