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Torontonians bid a tearful goodbye to Jack Layton

Hundreds of people began lining up outside city hall before dawn Friday, patiently waiting to view the casket of Jack Layton in yet another day of outpouring of public respect and affection.

Some wept unabashedly when they finally made it inside, and stood overwhelmed in front of the flag-covered coffin carrying the leader of the New Democratic Party who died Monday of cancer.

Environics pollster Michael Adams called the public effusion of emotion "astounding," and all but unprecedented for Canadians.

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Mr. Layton, Mr. Adams said, is "our Diana," a reference to the outpouring of grief that followed the death of the popular Princess Diana in a car crash in 1997.

"Jack Layton is the closest I've seen to Princess Diana in my experience and this includes the death of (former prime minister) Pierre Trudeau," Mr. Adams said.

"It's like the ineffable consequence of her death and a very similar feeling is going through the veins of many Canadians."

Thousands of people on Parliament Hill had already said their farewells to Layton, 61, whose body was brought to city hall from Ottawa late Thursday.

Dozens of people, many ringing bells or honking the horns on their bicycles, were on hand as the hearse arrived at city hall.

For some, like Samuel Getachew, it simply didn't matter that Layton led a party they did not support.

"I wanted to come and pay tribute to a wonderful Canadian that I never got a chance to vote for but whom I respected and admired his passion," said Mr. Getachew, who once met Layton in 2005.

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Scores of dignitaries, including Lt.-Gov. David Onley, provincial politicians, and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, filed past the casket before the public were allowed in.

They then shook hands with or embraced Mr. Layton's widow Olivia Chow and his two children, Mike and Sarah, who stood nearby next to a large portrait of the politician.

Later, the Layton children shook hands and greeted the crowds outside.

After paying his respects, Mr. Ford noted Mr. Layton's broad personal appeal as he surveyed some of the hundreds of supportive chalk messages in front of city hall.

"What's mind-boggling to me is that I've had people call me and say 'I never voted for him but I have the utmost respect for him,"' Mr. Ford said.

"They're out here."

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Richard Harrison arrived at 5 a.m. and found himself first in line.

"He was a very caring Canadian," said Mr. Harrison, clutching a photograph of himself with Layton taken eight years ago.

"He cared about everyone regardless of political stripe."

Mr. Layton will receive a state funeral Friday in the adoptive city that gave life to his long political career.

Former mayor Mel Lastman called Mr. Layton "the conscience of Toronto."

"He would push like hell," Mr. Lastman told The Canadian Press on Thursday in a phone interview.

"He wasn't the kind of guy who went for the throat. He stuck to the issues."

Those issues, many of them far from populist, included advocating for the homeless — a subject on which he would gain a national profile — and pushing for the rights of those with HIV and gays in the city.

A committed environmentalist, he was a familiar sight on his bicycle and is credited with places to lock bikes on city streets and bike lanes. He helped get curbside recycling going.

Still, the city that did not always support either his political views or aspirations.

In 1991, for example, Layton's bid for mayor fizzled badly, forcing him temporarily from local politics.

He tried in 1993 and again in 1997 as an NDP candidate for a seat in the House of Commons but on both occasions, voters in the downtown Toronto riding snubbed him.

It was only in 2004, more than a year after he became leader of the federal New Democrats, that voters in Toronto grudgingly awarded him his coveted seat in Parliament.

From there, Mr. Layton began steadily increasing the party's popularity, if not immediately its electoral fortunes.

In fact, Mr. Lastman said, Mr. Layton only finally came into his own as he, recovering from prostate cancer and hip surgery, campaigned for the May federal election wielding a cane.

"That guy really showed a lot of himself when he came out there that sick," Mr. Lastman said.

"You don't see leaders of the opposition or the prime minister being themselves. They're all hiding."

The result was the historic NDP breakthrough in becoming Official Opposition for the first time.

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