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Dozens gather to remember late NDP leader Jack Layton

Aug 23 2012

About 75 people, some sporting orange T-shirts, gathered at Victoria's downtown library Wednesday to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of former New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton.

Layton phrases like: "Don't let anyone tell you that it can't be done," and "A better Canada is possible" were written in chalk on the brick courtyard walls.

"Jack, you give me hope. Thank you for having faith in the human heart," wrote Sara Shorten.

Several prominent New Democrats, including MP Randall Garrison (Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca) and provincial MLAs Rob Fleming (Victoria-Swan Lake) and Carole James (Victoria-Beacon Hill) attended.

Thousands of Canadians gathered at memorials across the country to celebrate the life of the man who came to be viewed as a beacon of hope in the often cynical world of politics.

James spoke of Layton's endless, infectious energy.

"People are cynical about everything right now. It's a pretty down time for people, communities, society across our country," she said. "And Jack gave us hope. Jack built community more than anything else."

Layton died from cancer three months after leading his party to 103 seats and official Opposition status in the May 2011 election.

Victoria Coun. Marianne Alto said she developed a close relationship with Layton while serving as NDP national treasurer.

"I had a chance to work with him not just on the finances, but on the aspect of using our finances as a tool for organizing and as a tool for building good policies and actions," Alto said, adding that she felt his loss on a personal level.

She said Layton had the ability to transcend political affiliations.

"Whatever you thought of his politics, his process was very good," she said.

"He was someone who obviously reached out to a diverse group of people, and the fact that the party grew so astronomically under his leadership is indicative of that. I think that's a great model of leadership."

Former Victoria councillor and cycling advocate John Luton said he attended the memorial to honour the man he had known since Layton was "a cycling councillor in Toronto."

"He was a very compelling individual, and I think it's an opportunity for people to get together and remind ourselves of the very positive message he brought to Canadian politics," he said.

Layton's death, at age 61, forced the NDP into a leadership race. In March, Montreal MP Thomas Mulcair was chosen as Layton's successor.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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