Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Layton would be proud of NDP's progress

The Canadian Press:

Ottawa - Proud.

That's the word New Democrats invariably use to describe how Jack Layton would feel about his beloved party's evolution since his untimely death from cancer last August.

The NDP's world turned upside down a year ago this week, when a skeletal, raspy-voiced Layton, already battling prostate cancer, stepped aside as leader to devote all his remaining energy to fight a second unspecified — and ultimately more deadly — form of the scourge.

Sensing the end was nigh for the popular leader, pundits predicted a similar fate for the party itself, which had vaulted into official Opposition status only a few months earlier for the first time in its 50-year history.

Without Layton, pundits opined, the NDP's historic breakthrough in Quebec would evaporate. The newly minted caucus — dominated by inexperienced youngsters whose election wins were largely dismissed as flukes — would be in disarray. The next election would likely see a return to traditional voting patterns, with the NDP relegated to third or fourth place yet again behind the Conservatives, Liberals and Bloc Quebecois.

A year later, conventional wisdom has been turned on its head.

The NDP is tied — or even slightly ahead — of the governing Conservatives in public opinion polls, entrenching the perception it's the only credible alternative to the government. The party's base in Quebec has, if anything, solidified under the new leadership of one of the province's own, Tom Mulcair. And the party has demonstrated remarkable unity following a sometimes-bruising, seven-month leadership campaign.

"I think he'd be proud of the party," said Anne McGrath, Layton's longtime chief of staff.

"I think he could look back at this year and say that the caucus rose to the challenge, that we were disciplined, that we worked hard, that people learned very, very well to do their jobs ... and that we were able to pull together and do what needed to be done."

Brad Lavigne, Layton's former principal secretary, agreed Layton would be "very pleased" that New Democrats "have gone through the most difficult period of time, and we've come through with flying colours."

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