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Jack Layton
PC, M.S.C.
Jack Layton-cr bl.jpg
Leader of the Opposition
In office
May 2, 2011 – August 22, 2011
Monarch Elizabeth II
Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Preceded by Michael Ignatieff
Succeeded by Nycole Turmel
Leader of the New Democratic Party
In office
January 25, 2003 – August 22, 2011
(Leave of absence from July 28, 2011)
Preceded by Alexa McDonough
Succeeded by Nycole Turmel (Interim)
Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Toronto—Danforth
In office
June 28, 2004 – August 22, 2011
Preceded by Dennis Mills
Succeeded by Craig Scott
Personal details
John Gilbert Layton

(1950-07-18)July 18, 1950
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Died August 22, 2011(2011-08-22) (aged 61)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Resting place Ashes scattered on the Toronto Islands, buried in the Toronto Necropolis and planted at the Wyman United Church cemetery in Hudson, Quebec
Political party New Democratic Party
Sally Halford
(m. 1969; div. 1983)

(m. 1988; his death 2011)
Children Mike Layton
Sarah Layton
Alma mater McGill University
York University
Profession Professor, Politician

John Gilbert "Jack" Layton, PC (July 18, 1950 – August 22, 2011) was a Canadian politician and the Leader of the Official Opposition. He was the leader of the New Democratic Party from 2003 to 2011, and previously sat on Toronto City Council. He was the Member of Parliament for the constituency of Toronto—Danforth from 2004 until his death.

Early life

Layton was born in Montreal and raised in nearby Hudson, Quebec. His parents were Doris Elizabeth (née Steeves), a grand-niece of William Steeves, a Father of Confederation, and Progressive Conservative MP Robert Layton. He was elected student council president of his high school, Hudson High School, and his yearbook predicted that he would become a politician. He graduated from McGill University in 1970 with an honours Bachelor of Arts (BA) in political science and became a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity.

In 1970, the family moved to Toronto, where Layton graduated the following year from York University with a Master of Arts (MA) in political science; and later in 1983, he completed his Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in political science at York. In 1974, Layton became a professor at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now Toronto Metropolitan University). Over the next decade, he taught at Ryerson, York, and University of Toronto. He also became a prominent activist for a variety of causes. He wrote several books, including Homelessness: The Making and Unmaking of a Crisis and a book on general public policy, Speaking Out.


Layton rose to prominence in Toronto municipal politics, where he was one of the most prominent left-wing voices on the city and Metropolitan Toronto councils, championing many progressive causes. In 1991, he ran for mayor, losing to June Rowlands. Returning to council, he rose to become head of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. In 2003, he was elected leader of the NDP on the first ballot of the convention.

Under his leadership, support for the NDP increased in each election. The party's popular vote almost doubled in the 2004 election, which gave the NDP the balance of power in Paul Martin's minority government. In May 2005, the NDP supported the Liberal budget in exchange for major amendments, in what was promoted as Canada's "first NDP budget". In November of that year, Layton voted with other opposition parties to defeat the Liberal government over the findings of the Gomery Commission. The NDP saw further gains in the 2006 and 2008 elections, in which the party elected 29 and 37 MPs, respectively.

In the 2011 election, Layton led the NDP to the most successful result in the party's history, winning 103 seats—enough for the party to form the Official Opposition for the first time. Federal support for Layton and the NDP in the election was unprecedented, especially in the province of Quebec, where the party won 59 out of 75 seats.

Personal life

Jack Layton wearing a custom-made uniform at a Star Trek convention in 1991

Layton's great-granduncle, William Steeves, was a Father of Confederation. His great-grandfather Philip E. Layton was a blind activist who founded the Montreal Association for the Blind in 1908 and led a campaign for disability pensions in the 1930s.

Jack Layton's grandfather, Gilbert Layton, was a cabinet minister in the Union Nationale government of Maurice Duplessis in Quebec. His father, Robert Layton, was a Liberal Party activist in the 1960s and 1970s.

Layton was known for playing music and singing songs at party gatherings. Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason remembered during the three-day board meetings when Layton was running for president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities: "He would gather people together in his hotel room and play the guitar and get everybody singing old folk songs from the 1960s. He just got people involved, just with his personality, not politics."

Layton was a keen Trekkie, having a custom Starfleet uniform made by a tailor. Layton was famously photographed wearing his uniform at a Star Trek convention in 1991.

He was married to fellow MP Olivia Chow.


Layton died at his home in Toronto on August 22, 2011, aged 61, after suffering from cancer. Layton's body had a lying-in-state before a state funeral was held in Toronto. He was 61 years old.

Jack Layton casket
Jack Layton's casket is carried into the Centre Block for his lying-in-state
Jack Layton hommage
Jack Layton hommage in Toronto, Canada

Upon hearing the news, there was a nationwide outpouring of grief. Layton's family released an open letter, written by Layton two days before his death. In it, he expressed his wishes regarding the NDP's leadership in the event of his death, and addressed various segments of the Canadian population, concluding, "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world."

Layton was accorded a state funeral by the Governor-General-in-Council, which took place between August 25 and 27, 2011, with the final memorial service at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. Layton was cremated following the funeral. A portion of his ashes was scattered under a jack pine planted on Toronto Island in his honour, with a second portion scattered at the Layton family's plot at Cote St. Charles United Church in Hudson, Quebec. A third portion was scattered under a memorial sculpted by Chow, placed at the Toronto Necropolis Cemetery on the first anniversary of his death.

Legacy and honours

Jack Layton memorial statue 01
A memorial for Layton at the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal, which was renamed in his honour in 2013
  • The Jack Layton Ferry Terminal in Toronto was renamed in Layton's honour in 2013, on the second anniversary of his death. A bronze statue of Layton riding on a tandem bicycle was installed at the site.
  • Jack Layton Way in Toronto was named in 2013 (formerly Don Jail Roadway and parking area in front of the old jail). The street was once part of the driveway to the Don Jail and now being transformed as part of the Bridgepoint Health redevelopment in the Toronto neighbourhood of Riverdale; the community is in Layton's former electoral district of Toronto—Danforth. South side of the roadway is Toronto Public Library Riverdale Branch and Hubbard Park (named after William Peyton Hubbard.)
  • Ryerson University (now Toronto Metropolitan University), where Layton was a professor for many years, honoured him by creating the Jack Layton Chair in the Department of Politics and Public Administration. The endowment sponsors several events including the annual Jack Layton Lecture series, the Jack Layton Book Club held in conjunction with Ryerson Archives and which holds discussions about various books that are part of the archive's Jack Layton Collection. As well, the chair sponsors the annual Jack Layton School for Leadership, an annual program aimed at building the leadership capacity of leaders and activists working towards social change.
  • The Broadbent Institute awards an annual Jack Layton Progress Prize to "recognize the person or organization that has created and fielded an exceptional and successful campaign for progressive change."
  • Parc Jack-Layton in Layton's hometown of Hudson, Quebec, was named in 2012. Previously known as Hudson Marina, the park is located by the shore of Lake of Two Mountains. Layton's widow, Olivia Chow, along with family members and MP Tom Mulcair, attended the renaming ceremony.
  • A plaque commemorating Layton was unveiled in 2013 in Toronto's Withrow Park in front on an oak tree that was planted in his memory.
  • The educational organization Learning for a Sustainable Future has established the LSF Jack Layton Award for Youth Action in Sustainability to honour schools that have "responded to community challenges with creativity, responsible citizenship and innovative action".
  • Toronto's Woodgreen Community Services renamed their seniors' housing building at 1070 Queen Street East, Jack Layton Seniors' Housing in honour of Layton.
  • The national headquarters of the federal NDP was named the "Jack Layton Building" after him.

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See also

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