NDP leader Jack Layton.

NDP leader Jack Layton.

MP discusses Layton’s illness and new interim leader

Local MP Nathan Cullen spoke out on Wednesday about the mini-crisis facing his party in Ottawa now that NDP leader Jack Layton has taken a leave of absence from Parliament to fight a second bout with cancer.

Local MP Nathan Cullen spoke out on Wednesday about the mini-crisis facing his party in Ottawa now that NDP leader Jack Layton has taken a leave of absence from Parliament to fight a second bout with cancer.

Cullen says that he and the rest of the NDP caucus intend to continue doing their jobs the same as before and that he stands behind Layton’s choice of a rookie MP from Quebec to replace him until, not if, he returns to politics.

Earlier this week, a very thin and raspy-voiced Jack Layton announced that he would be leaving Parliament at least until the House of Commons reconvenes in September, so that he can undergo medical treatment for a second round of cancer. Earlier this year, Layton had been under treatment for prostate cancer which he was able to beat. What kind of cancer the second infection is something not even the NDP caucus knows for sure.

“What happened was, Jack had gone in for a checkup and it was one of those good-news/bad-news sort of moments where he had successfully fought the prostate cancer, but they found indications of other cancer going on,” explained Cullen.

“So, I don’t think we know yet, and it will be totally speculative until his doctors confirm something.”

Despite now having left Parliament for medical treatment, Layton has not been out of contact with his party. According to Cullen, Layton used the Internet-phone and video-chat service, Skype, to give his MPs an update during their caucus meeting on Wednesday.

“As sad as it was, and in as much shock as people are over the news that Jack is going through another bout with cancer, incredibly uplifting and determined is how I would describe the atmosphere as we left the meeting. There is determination that Jack needs to get well because that’s what he needs to do, and to do our jobs that many-millions of Canadians elected us to do,” says Cullen.

Layton picked newly-elected Quebec MP, Nycole Turmel, to replace him as interim leader. Political observers have already been buzzing about the political strategy of appointing a Quebecer to stand in for him. The NDP made historic gains in Quebec in the last election, and some are suggesting this is an attempt to solidify that support. Cullen says that he doesn’t know how much her being from Quebec factored into the decision, but says he’s convinced she is qualified to stand in for Layton.

“Having headed up the one of largest unions in the country (Public Alliance Service of Canada); having been such a stalwart member of the party for so long, during some pretty dark days in Quebec. So, she has the street-cred in terms of her commitment,” says Cullen.

There is always the possibility that Layton’s illness may prevent him from coming back to politics at all, in that case the NDP would need to have a leadership race. Cullen says it’s not something he’s even considering right now.

“There is no leadership job available, Jack Layton is our leader. . . we said to him ‘come back as soon as possible, but not sooner.’”