In a country where voter turnout can be pitifully low, often wavering around the 60-per-cent mark, it is rare to see an outpouring of emotion from the Canadian polity about a politician.
But after Jack Layton, the recently elected Leader of the Official Opposition, made an announcement Tuesday that he was diagnosed with a new cancer, people took to the Internet to show their compassion and deep sympathy.
Even before he actually said the words – "… I have a new cancer – non-prostate cancer..." – there was a spike on Twitter, caused by people prophesying the bad news. But the flood of condolences soon made the NDP leader a trending topic.
The tweets range from saddened well-wishers ( @sept281972: "Saddened by the news of Jack Layton's illness. Thoughts are with Jack, his wife Olivia and their family at this difficult time"), to courageous quips ( @pberard: "Somebody should warn cancer that Jack Layton, the Canadian Chuck Norris, is coming after it."), to political tributes ( @elisasboy72: "Wishing a great, Canadian warrior strength, courage and love in his latest battle. Get well #Jack Layton. Canada is by your side.").
Mr. Layton's Facebook page has also exploded with comments. Just over three hours after he made the announcement, close to 900 comments were left on his page in response.
The NDP has also created an online form people can fill out to send Mr. Layton a more private get-well message. The page also contains a link to the donation page of the Canadian Cancer Society.
Beyond taking strength from the online outpouring of kindness, the NDP leader can take solace in the fact that even in the highly partisan arena of federal politics, a true tragedy can bridge the gap: "No matter what your political stripe is the news about Jack Layton is very sad indeed," tweeted @prairiegirlsk.
Who knows, maybe by seeing a powerful political figure in the throes of a deadly illness, Canadians might start to care about more than just Mr. Layton's health. Maybe people will start to care about politics in general.
How do you feel about Jack Layton's announcement?