For Jean Crowder, the death of NDP leader Jack Layton was akin to losing a family member.
Cowichan’s MP spoke with the News Leader Pictorial hours after Layton’s death was announced Monday, in between fielding phone calls and emails from well-wishers and others offering condolences.
A somber Crowder reflected on Layton’s legacy.
“I think his legacy of taking the NDP to the Official Opposition will absolutely be remembered,” said Crowder, “but also I think his legacy will be around optimism and hope. It’s the first time I’ve seen it in politics in a long time, and I think that will also be remembered.”
Layton, who lost his battle with cancer in the early hours of Aug. 22, gained status as leader of the Official Opposition after the May 2 election — a first for the federal New Democrat party.
“Jack’s incredible drive and spirit brought the party to where it is today, and I think in part, he was successful for a couple of reasons,” Crowder said.
“He put together a great team, both of MPs and staff — he recognized this was a team effort.”
He also brought what Crowder called “a new energy and optimism to politics.”
“That’s one of the things that resonated with so many people — and it showed you could do politics differently, and win,” she said. “I think that’s a real gift, and I think in part why we’re seeing such outpouring (of grief for Layton’s death), because that isn’t always present in other leaders nationally, and people want that; there’s a hunger for that.”
Crowder also attributed Layton’s popularity to his “everydayness.”
“People call him Jack. They don’t call him Mr. Layton. He had that openness,” she said.
“He cared. He cared and wasn’t afraid to say he cared, and to show it. And even if people disagreed with his politics, they knew he was coming from a really heartfelt, genuine place, and you can’t fake that.”
Politicians of all stripes have also been sharing kind words about Layton, including Crowder’s most recent political opponent, Nanaimo-Cowichan Conservative candidate John Koury.
“Politicians like Mr. Layton inspire me,” he said in a statement. “He worked hard and it takes a lot of hard work to be successful. He was a great adversary who I respected and he will be missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and supporters.”
And while it’s too soon to tell how the NDP will proceed with the loss of its leader, Crowder pointed to Layton’s letter penned to Canadians the day before he died.
“In his letter he left to everybody,” she said, “he encouraged us to continue with the work he’s done, and I fully intend to do that.”