Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jack Layton's New Cancer Changes National Politics Again

Jack Layton, Bill Tieleman and Thomas Mulcair in 2007
 With the future of NDP in balance, his pick for interim leader is puzzling

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday July 26, 2011

By Bill Tieleman

"Cancer is a word, not a sentence."

- John Diamond, British journalist

New Democrat leader Jack Layton's surprise disclosure Monday that he is suffering from a new form of cancer will shock not only his party, but federal politics itself.

As someone who has known Layton since his days as a Toronto city councillor in the 1980s, and who endorsed Layton's 2003 NDP leadership bid, I'm saddened to learn of his new illness but inspired by his fighting spirit.

Canadians' kindness will support Layton's efforts to overcome cancer once again, as he did successfully with prostate cancer. We can only hope that Layton's determination to beat the disease is successful.

But his plans to return to Parliament when it resumes September 19 seem overly optimistic, given his frail, gaunt appearance and hoarse, almost unrecognizable voice.

That could mean a significant shift in the dynamic of federal politics, because as leader of the official Opposition, Layton is also the alternative to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Surprising choice for interim leader

While with a federal election just behind us and a majority Conservative government firmly in power for four years means that political stability is guaranteed for now, the future of the NDP is very much in the balance.

Layton attempted to deal with the first question for the NDP -- who will be interim leader until he returns -- but his answer is somewhat puzzling: rookie Member of Parliament Nycole Turmel.

Turmel has only been an MP for Hull-Alymer riding in Quebec since the May 2 election.

While she was chosen unanimously as caucus chair and is an experienced former president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Layton's choice of Turmel could be debated and even overturned.

Putting an MP with under a month's parliamentary experience in charge of the official Opposition is almost unheard of.

But the party passing over both deputy NDP leaders -- Vancouver's Libby Davies and Montreal's Thomas Mulcair -- would be astonishing.

Either could easily handle the job for at least the time period Layton indicated.

But that choice isn't made by caucus. It will be a decision of the NDP's federal council -- its elected national executive -- on Thursday.

And despite the best wishes of all for Layton's recovery from cancer, thoughts will turn to the possibility of a full change of leadership in the near future.

Inevitable consideration

Turmel's selection may be most of all an indication that Layton does not wish to put in place anyone who may have longer term leadership aspirations.

No MPs will want to talk about that in light of today's stunning news about Layton.

But inevitably, due consideration will have to be given to ensure that the federal NDP is prepared for all eventualities.

Meanwhile, we can only wish Layton the best in what is an extremely unfair blow to a leader who has been so successful for the party.



Anonymous said...

First off, the news about Layton is terrible, and I honestly hope for his recovery.

As for his choice of interim leader, this isn't that bad of a choice. She was chosen by the NDP MPs themselves, so she did something to earn their confidence, and I can't imagine the executive wanting to overturn that decision. As the head of a national union, she will have worked on issues of concern to Canadians across the country.

Certainly her lack of experience as an MP will be a challenge, but Parliamentary experience does not always work. Remember how badly Paul Martin crashed and burned for the Liberals, despite having had about 15 years experience as an MP, some of those years as a federal Cabinet Minister?

DPL said...

Sure hope Jack will recover soon. He is such a fighter, that if anyone can, he is the one. Cancer can be beaten as others have beaten theirs.Best wishes to his extended family, the MP's and many thousands of people who are rooting for him

ron wilton said...

I am afraid that Jack may be down for the count on this one. He has a big heart and a great will, but his body has been ravaged by this dreadful disease.

He represented a great hope for Canada and Canadians, and now we must hope for him to return to health and enjoyment of a life well lived.

I hope for the best, but expect the worst.

Anonymous said...

Best wishes for a speedy recovery to Mr. Layton, one helluva nice guy and a great Canadian.

Bill I think Mulcair and Davies are cannon fodder for the establishment media. They would do well to remain in supporting roles for the good of the party and those of us who want an alternative to Libs and Cons.

Nycole Turmel seems a much smaller target than the aforementioned and has an impressive resume that indicates she can keep things on an even keel until Mr. Layton is back.

Get well soon Jack!

Anonymous said...

It hurts to the soul to see Jack so ill with, another battle against cancer to fight.

I am sorry for Olivia too. She was very strong for Jack, with his first bought of cancer. Olivia and Jack, will fight this terrible disease together.

Ron1 said...

I hope Jack takes as much time as he needs to recover - and decide if he wishes to return to the onerous job of Official Opposition leader.

Anonymous said...

Not a good column, Bill. should have been more focused on Jack and his dilemma with cancer rather than getting into petty politics as to whom should be interim leader.

Poor Jack isn't even recovered yet and already some NDPers are getting cannibalistic.

e.a.f. said...

Nycol Turmel is a good choice and has what it takes to lead the NDP at this time.
She has a national perspective on all the issues having been not only the president of the PSAC but president of CEIU. Her background will certainly assist her in holding Harper's feet to the fire on social issues.
As to leading a caucus of largely new members, she will have no difficulty. This was often the case in union politics.
She is articulate, smart, and understands the needs of Canadians.
Layton did well in choosing someone who would not be running for the leadership, should that become necessary.
Davies would not have been a good choice and Muclair may bring a bit too much baggage.
Turmel has always handled herself with dignity in her various roles as a union leader and I expect she will continue to do so as an interium leader of the NDP.

Anonymous said...

Jack sold his sole for votes. Can't argue with that. Death and taxes you can never escape. When he gets treatment in the US, let's hear all the complaints.

Anonymous said...

Jack sold his sole for votes. Can't argue with that. Death and taxes you can never escape. When he gets treatment in the US, let's hear all the complaints.

Who said anything about Jack getting treatment for his cancer in the U.S.?

Anonymous said...

Jack has used private clinics before. It's a fact. Makes no difference if he knew it or not. With quicker and better treatment in the US, why not go to the US and the taxpayers account. All politicians and wannabees are the same. Useless criminals.

Bill Tieleman said...

I appreciate all the concern for Jack, which I very much share.

However, the leadership - even temporary - of the NDP is nonetheless open to discussion and debate.

I have nothing against Nycole Turmel and hope she does well now that she has been confirmed as acting leader.

But it's fair to question why no one with significant Parliamentary experience was chosen from a caucus of many veterans.

PeterInEdmonton said...

Although I do not agree with his politics, I hate to see anybody go through what he's going through. I have a friend who went through chemo and radiation at about the same age and the treatments sure knocked her sideways. I think that September is a bit optimistic but lets all hope for a full recovery.

I was out of the country when the news broke, so I have missed most of the coverage of this. The only clip I have seen so far of Ms. Turmel indicates that she seems to have a warm personality and an infectious grin. I haven't followed M. Mulcair as much as Ms. Davies but I think that they both have some baggage. Some past quotes could be trotted out to show that what plays in East Vancouver doesn't necessarily play nationally. Also, how fluent is Ms. Davies in French?

PeterInEdmonton said...

Just an update, given the past BQ and current Québec Solidaire membership of Ms. Turmel, I guess that blows my theory of her being baggage of the air.
At this writing, you can find the story on the front page of today's Globe, the lead story on the totally unbiased Sun Media web site, and buried somewhat deeply on the totally unbiased CBC web site.