New Democrat MPs meeting in Ottawa have unanimously supported Jack Layton’s recommendation that former union boss Nycole Turmel replace him on an interim basis as he fights a second bout of cancer.
“We have overwhelming unanimous support for the recommendation that Nycole be our interim leader,” deputy leader Libby Davies told reporters when the meeting ended. The caucus decision must still be ratified by the party's national council, which will meet on Thursday.
Ms. Turmel, a rookie MP from Gatineau across the river from Ottawa, said she was “overwhelmed” by the support of her caucus.
“I am also ready to take on the job as long as the federal council accepts the recommendation of the caucus,” she said. “We have a strong caucus. We have a strong leader in Jack Layton. We want to give him the time to rest, to come back in September.”
Mr. Layton’s renewed battle with cancer did not keep him away from the caucus meeting. Party president Brian Topp told reporters on Wednesday that Mr. Layton would address the meeting at Parliament Hill’s Centre Block via internet from his home in Toronto.
Mr. Topp also said he personally spoke with Mr. Layton earlier in the morning.
“He was in great spirits, his voice was strong, he was in good humour,” said Mr. Topp. “He was complaining that he should have done his press conference today. And he asked me to say that he was grateful for the thousands messages that he has received in the past two days from Canadians across the country. He is drawing great power and spirit from them.”
Mr. Layton, appearing gaunt and his voice rasping, told a news conference on Monday that he hopes to be back in Parliament in September. He recommended that Ms. Turmel step into the leadership job on a temporary basis.
Heading into the Wednesday meeting, several New Democrat MPs, including veterans Joe Comartin and Pat Martin, said they would be doing what they could to see that Mr. Layton’s wishes were fulfilled. It will be up to the party’s federal council to make the final decision on the interim leadership after it meets on Thursday.
Mr. Topp said he has heard no dissenting voices arguing that Ms. Turmel should not get the nod.
It was largely Mr. Layton’s personal charisma that brought the New Democrats from the fourth place party in the House of Commons to Official Opposition in the most recent federal election.
Some NDP supporters in Quebec have told The Globe and Mail they do not know the name of their new New Democrat MP, they voted for Mr. Layton.
But Mr. Topp said the party would endure Mr. Layton’s absence.
“One of Jack Layton’s goals was to build a team that is ready to be the government of Canada after the next election. And one of the things that we are going to see in the months to come is that he achieved that goal,” he said.
As to the choice of Ms. Turmel for interim Leader, Ms. Topp said she is well known within Quebec and is soon to become known on a national level. She is no rookie, he said, and has been the chief executive officer of a large organization.
Heading into the caucus was a sombre event for most of the New Democrat MPs. Many said they were as shocked as the rest of Canada to learn on Monday that Mr. Layton’s health had taken a turn for the worse and that he decided to step aside.
“I am very sad that he is going through this battle,” said Mr. Comartin. “I think, though, coming from that fairly early on was an absolute determination that we were going to there both individually and as a caucus to support him.”
Mr. Martin said there is a “sadness going through NDP territory” but MPs are happy that Mr. Layton is taking the time he needs to get well.
As for the notion that Mr. Layton was the party brand, Mr. Martin said: “This party is much bigger than any one person. That’s the way Jack built it.”
Despite the rushed nature of Wednesday’s meeting all but about 10 of the 103 NDP MPs were able to attend.
Irene Mathyssen, an MP from London, Ont. was at a Commonwealth conference in London, England on Monday when she got the news.
Ms. Mathyssen, who hurried back to Ottawa, said she thinks Ms. Turmel is an excellent choice for interim Leader. “She’s experienced,” she said, “she has a long history with the party, she has a great deal of experience as someone managing and heading up a large organization. She will be just wonderful.”