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Gary Doer, Alexa McDonough to serve as Layton pallbearers Add to ...

Jack Layton’s friend and fellow New Democrat Gary Doer, who is now Canada’s Ambassador to the United States, will be an honourary pallbearer at the state funeral Saturday.

Mr. Doer, who was the long-time NDP premier of Manitoba before Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed him to Washington, will serve alongside Ed Broadbent, Mr. Layton’s political mentor and also a former NDP leader. Alexa McDonough, who Mr. Layton succeeded as federal leader, will also be a pallbearer as will Bob Gallagher, a close family friend and former chief of staff to Mr. Layton.

Mr. Layton’s widow Olivia Chow and his children, Sarah and Michael, and other family members are beginning to arrive and gather in Ottawa in anticipation of the arrival Wednesday morning of Mr. Layton’s flag-draped casket.

Early in the morning, as the hearse carrying Mr. Layton’s remains made its way to Ottawa from Toronto, a red carpet was rolled out as Parliament prepared for this rare event.

The Peace Tower bells will toll 15 times when the casket is carried into the Centre Block and down the corridor to the foyer of the House of Commons, where it will lie for two days. Later, Mr. Layton’s remains will be brought back to Toronto where he will lie in repose at City Hall until his funeral Saturday afternoon.

Mr. Broadbent, meanwhile, reflected on his friend’s impact in an interview with The Globe. He said he last spoke with Mr. Layton a week before he died.

“I called to extend him my sympathy,” Mr. Broadbent said. “I very much thought it would be the last time I talked to him.”

What happened next, he said, was typical “Jack.”

Two minutes into the conversation he turned it around “to make me feel good about things,” Mr. Broadbent recalled. “That is Jack.”

And what was also typical of Mr. Layton was how he could innovate, Mr. Broadbent said, referring to the letter to Canadians the NDP leader wrote in the final weekend of his life.

“It was an imaginative last encounter with the people of Canada – and a very positive one,” the elder NDP statesman said. “He didn’t boast about his own accomplishments, he certainly wasn’t expressing remorse. He was saying what a great country and we can change things for the future and we can get on with it.”

Penning something like this, Mr. Broadbent said, is “unique in the history of Canada ... but in retrospect it is another example of his innovative approach to politics.”

Layton on religion: ‘You’ve got to make it more relevant’

Canadians knew Jack Layton for his stand on the environment, poverty and social housing issues – but rarely did they hear about his faith, which helped influence his passion for public service.

As his family prepares for his funeral, Lorna Dueck, a Christian writer and commentator, recalled Mr. Layton’s comments about faith during the 2008 campaign.

Growing up in Hudson, Que., he said his parents involved him in the United Church from a very young age. He recalled that he had to go to “the Bible Study Class” at 9:30 every Sunday morning because his father, Robert, taught it. There were only three students, including Mr. Layton.

His father wondered how to make it more popular.

“I said you’ve got to make it more relevant,” Mr. Layton said. “For example, what if you made it Sunday nights and what if you changed it from Bible Study Class to some other name maybe some of our friends would come.”

So they came up a new name: Infusers. “The idea that you could infuse your ideas and your work and your enthusiasm into the community,” Mr. Layton explained. “And before you knew it practically every kid in Hudson was coming.”

Ms. Dueck says it’s important to hear Canada’s political leaders talk about their faith.

“It helps us understand the dimensions of their view. If he had Christian faith, then Mr. Layton had hope for beyond the grave,” she told The Globe. “In the Tommy Douglas tradition, which was the biblical tradition (or Infuser tradition Layton had in youth), then death is not a defeat but a new beginning.”

Follow on Twitter: @janetaber1

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