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New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jack Layton speaks at a news conference in Toronto, July 25, 2011. Layton announced he is temporarily stepping down to battle cancer. (Mark Blinch/Reuters/Mark Blinch/Reuters)
New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jack Layton speaks at a news conference in Toronto, July 25, 2011. Layton announced he is temporarily stepping down to battle cancer. (Mark Blinch/Reuters/Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Jack Layton steps aside temporarily after second cancer diagnosis Add to ...

Jack Layton, who led the New Democrats to a historic electoral victory this spring, is temporarily stepping aside as Leader of the federal NDP to fight a second type of cancer.

In a strained voice, and appearing to have lost weight since the election, Mr. Layton told reporters he was taking some time off for treatment so he can return to Parliament to fight on behalf of Canadians.

"I'm going to fight this cancer now, so I can be back to fight for families when Parliament resumes."

Mr. Layton said he intended to be in his seat when the House returns from its summer break on Sept. 19.

The 61-year-old NDP Leader did not divulge what type of cancer he was diagnosed with, but he said the prostate cancer was no longer a threat. The new disease was something he noticed in the final days of the last session, Mr. Layton said Monday, when he began to experience stiffness and pain.

"I am as hopeful and optimistic about all of this as I was the day I began my political work, many years ago," he said. "I am hopeful and optimistic about the personal battle that lies before me in the weeks to come."

Mr. Layton recommended that Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel, a former union leader, take over as temporary leader of the party until he can return. The caucus and the federal council will also be consulted.

"Ms. Turmel enjoys unanimous support as the national chair of our Parliamentary caucus," Mr. Layton said. "She is an experienced national leader in both official languages. And she will do an excellent job as our national interim leader."

In choosing Ms. Turmel, a rookie, Mr. Layton bypassed both of his deputy leaders - Libby Davies, a long-time Vancouver MP; and Thomas Mulcair, the man who established a beachhead for the NDP in Quebec by winning a Montreal seat in a by-election in 2007.

His recommendation does not mean that Ms. Turmel will be named interim leader, but it is unlikely that the party would go against Mr. Layton's wishes.

Mr. Layton's announcement was met with an outpouring of support from Canadians on Twitter, and statements of encouragement from his political allies and rivals.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper wished Mr. Layton a successful recovery, saying the veteran politician was "passionate about his convictions and the future of our great country."

"I salute the courage Mr. Layton continues to show in his fight against cancer, a fight that more and more Canadians are winning. We are all heartened by Jack's strength and tireless determination, which with Mr. Layton will never be in short supply," Mr. Harper said.

Mr. Layton told Canadians in February of last year that he was battling prostate cancer - a diagnosis he received in December, 2009. At that time, he made it clear he had no intention of stepping aside. Instead, he pointed to the fact that his wife, fellow MP Olivia Chow, had won her own fight with thyroid cancer and predicted a similar victory.

Then, in March of this year, just before the election call, he had three-hour surgery to repair a fractured hip.

Just days later, he appeared for a critical vote in the House of Commons.

Though Mr. Layton was in obvious physical discomfort at times, the NDP Leader launched into an election campaign.

The day-to-day grind of cross-country politicking seemed to revive him. After five weeks, he was looking a little better. He exchanged a crutch for a smaller cane sent to him by a supporter. He even danced a jig or two.

His party was rejuvenated along with him, climbing from a paltry 37 seats to 103 - and shocking pundits with a jaw-dropping surge in Quebec, where the NDP had sat in the political fringe since its inception. In the process, the party became the Official Opposition in the House of Commons for the first time in its history, relegating the Liberals to third-party status and all but wiping out the Bloc Québécois.

But by June, his health appeared to have taken a turn for the worse. At the garden party the federal Opposition Leader traditionally throws for reporters, Mr. Layton rarely left his chair.

Despite his medical issues, few could deny that he has been the most successful leader of the federal New Democrats. He took over the party after it had slumped to 8.5 per cent of the popular vote in 2000 and set its finances on solid footing as he increased its presence in the House.

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