Nycole Turmel says she is up to the task of replacing Jack Layton at the helm of the federal new Democratic Party.
“Until he returns, I clearly have big shoes to fill,” Ms. Turmel told reporters on Thursday after the party’s federal council unanimously agreed she should become interim Leader. “But I am also fortunate to be standing on such a solid foundation.”
In the end, the council’s choice of the former head of the Public Service Alliance of Canada and rookie MP from Gatineau, Que. was a mere formality. Mr. Layton, himself, recommended her for the job and the party’s caucus gave her its unanimous support on Wednesday.
And Ms. Turmel indicated that she will try to pick up exactly where he left off.
Mr. Layton has spent eight years building a team that is ready to tackle an circumstance with hope and optimism, she said. “That is exactly what you can expect from us in the coming weeks,” said Ms. Turmel, who outlined her long association with the party. “You will be seeing a lot more of me...”
Her appointment bypassed the two NDP deputy leaders -- Libby Davies and Thomas Mulcair. When asked by reporters to explain why Mr. Layton would have given the nod to a neophyte politician rather than either of his two more experienced deputies, Ms. Turmel replied: “Mr. Layton decided it was better to have an interim Leader.” When pressed, she refused to elaborate further.
Another reporter asked Ms. Turmel if she believed her heavily accented English would be an impediment. “I believe I am that strong enough to represent Canadians wherever they come from,” she replied. She is heading to Vancouver and then Newfoundland in the days ahead, she said.
News stories surfaced on Thursday suggesting that Mr. Mulcair had discussed working for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives before he landed with the NDP. Ms. Turmel said Mr. Mulcair is a great candidate and a great leader who contacted other parties before choosing the New Democrats and she is very proud of his choice.
Mr. Layton, who has said he plans to return to Parliament when the summer break sends in September, has not disclosed what new type of cancer is afflicting him. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer a year and a half ago and had hip surgery in March.
One reporter asked Ms. Turmel if she believed Mr. Layton should be more forthcoming about this new illness.
“It is his decision not to say it,” she replied, “And we have to respect it.”