Mark Shmigelsky was working a graveyard shift at the Canal Flats Tembec Mil when the news of federal NDP and official opposition leader Jack Layton’s death first reached him Monday.
“I was actually quite shocked at how emotional I was, because I hadn’t known Jack for a long time. But he certainly had an impact on my politics. I wasn’t always an NDP-er and my journey to the NDP began with Jack,” said Shmigelsky, a former mayor of Invermere who ran for the party during the last federal election.
“Myself personally, I was pretty devastated by the news of it happening so quick.”
Layton, who was 61, passed away early Monday morning. The news comes after his revelation last month that he had been diagnosed with a second form of cancer, following a successful battle with prostate cancer in 2009. Layton had taken time away from his role as leader to seek treatment.
Provincial NDP MLA Norm Macdonald also said he was “shocked” by the news, even though he was aware of Layton’s ongoing battle with the disease.
“Like most Canadians I am deeply saddened to hear that he has lost his battle with cancer,” he said. “The last time I saw him was at the convention in June in Vancouver. He was just as energetic as ever. Of course the convention was positive because of the success of the federal election. People were looking forward and talking of the next step — which would be a NDP government with Jack Layton as the Prime Minister.”
Tributes to Layton have come from politicians of all stripes, and Kootenay-Columbia Conservative MP David Wilks told The Valley Echo he’s among those who will notice Layton’s absence when parliament resumes in September.
“It’s a sad day for Canadian politics. Certainly Jack was on the other side of my political beliefs, but he was a great leader and brought a ton of passion to Canadian politics,” Wilks said.
“I think it’s going to be quite somber for the first little while… I think all parties in the house will treat each other with utmost respect, recognizing Jack’s contributions to Canadian politics.”
At press time, Wilks did not know if he would be called to Ottawa to attend Layton’s funeral, but said the party will be taking its lead from Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Though saddened, Wilks said he wasn’t surprised when news of Layton’s death reached him, recalling a bus ride he took with the opposition leader and his wife, Olivia Chow, in late June, following the NDP’s filibuster of back-to-work legislation for Canada Post staff.
“He didn’t look well then, and then when all of Canada saw him on television a few weeks ago when he announced that he was stepping down and allowing an interim leader to come in he looked much worse than when I had seen him,” he remembered.
“It was quite obvious to me that there was something very wrong. He’s in a better place.”
While all three men say they expect the New Democrats will have much rebuilding to do in the coming months, Shmigelsky says he thinks Layton will continue to inspire the party after a new leader is named.
“I think he’s the type of politician people should strive for and he did it for the right reasons, and he truly is and was a fighter,” he said.
“Other people, when they face this disease, say ‘I’m going to spend time with my family and do things that are personally important.’ Obviously, fighting for Canadian families was personally important for him, and he fought right to the end.”
—with files from Darryl Crane