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Jack Layton

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Jack Layton
Jack Layton

The Honourable John Gilbert "Jack" Layton, P.C., M.P., (born July 18, 1950, Hudson, Québec) is a social democratic Canadian politician, a former Toronto, Ontario city councillor, deputy mayor, and the current leader of Canada's New Democratic Party. On June 28, 2004, he was elected Member of Parliament for the constituency of Toronto—Danforth.

Layton grew up in Hudson, Québec, and studied at McGill and York Universities; he holds a Ph.D. in political science from York, and has taught at all three universities of Toronto, Ontario.

Layton comes from a long line of politicians. His great-great-grandfather, William Steeves, was a Father of Confederation. His great-grandfather was a blind activist who led a campaign for disability pensions in the 1930s. His grandfather, Gilbert Layton, was a cabinet minister in the Union Nationale government of Maurice Duplessis in Quebec, and resigned due to the provincial government's lack of support for Canadian participation in World War II. His father, Robert Layton, was a Liberal Party activist in the 1960s and 1970s and served as a Progressive Conservative MP and Cabinet minister in the 1980s.

Jack Layton has been an activist for over 30 years in a variety of causes and has written several books, including Homelessness: The Making and Unmaking of a Crisis and, more recently, a book on general public policy, Speaking Out. He was first elected to Toronto City Council in 1982 and ran unsuccessfully for the position of Mayor of Toronto in 1991. After returning to academia and operating an environmental consulting business, he returned to city council in 1994 and led the Federation of Canadian Municipalities as president for a term before running and winning the leadership of the federal NDP in 2003.

He is married to Hong Kong-born Toronto city councillor and fellow New Democrat Olivia Chow.

Layton was elected leader of the NDP at the party's leadership convention in Toronto, on January 25, 2003. Layton won on the first ballot, with 53.5% of the vote. He was the first candidate for federal NDP leadership to win on the first ballot since the legendary Tommy Douglas and the first to win without being either a Member of Parliament or a provincial premier. As he held no seat in the House of Commons, he delegated runner-up Bill Blaikie to act as parliamentary leader. Layton did not seek election to the House of Commons by running in a by-election, as is the tradition among new party leaders without a seat. Instead, he waited until the 2004 federal election, in which he sought and won a seat for the riding of Toronto—Danforth against Liberal Dennis Mills. Mills had defeated Layton by a wide margin in the 1997 election.

Jack Layton addresses the 2003 NDP convention in , where he was elected leader
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Jack Layton addresses the 2003 NDP convention in Toronto, where he was elected leader

Although he had no parliamentary seat, Layton was noted for trying to draw considerable attention from the Canadian mass media. Much of his rhetoric has involved attacking the policies of Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin as conservative, and arguing the ideology of the Liberal Party of Canada has shifted in a more right wing direction.

Another contribution has been to increase the party's profile in Quebec, the province in which the NDP is the weakest. A native of the province, he has visited Quebec more times in the first year of his tenure than the previous leader, Alexa McDonough, did in her entire leadership, and has forged ties with various Quebec activist groups such as Montreal's Front d'action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU). One of his opponents in the leadership race, Pierre Ducasse, was the first Québécois to run for leader of the NDP. After the race, Layton appointed Ducasse as his Quebec lieutenant and party spokesperson.

During the 2004 federal election, controversy erupted over Layton's accusation that Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin was responsible for the deaths of homeless people because he failed to provide funding for affordable housing. While rates of homelessness and homeless deaths skyrocketed during the eleven years of Liberal government, the Liberals argued that funding for affordable housing was cut under the government of Brian Mulroney. Some defended the charge, or Layton's place to make it, while others rejected it as negative campaigning.

See also: Homelessness in Canada

Further controversy followed as Layton suggested the removal of the Clarity Act, a piece of legislation considered by some to be vital to keeping Quebec in Canada and seen by others as undemocratic, and promised to recognize any declaration of independence by Quebec after a referendum. This position was not part of the NDP's official party policy, leading some high-profile party members, such as NDP House Leader Bill Blaikie and former NDP leader Alexa McDonough, to publicly indicate that they did not share Layton's views.

Despite these problems, Layton led the NDP to its best popular vote in 16 years. The party won over 15% of the vote but only 19 seats in the House of Commons, short of the 21 won under Alexa McDonough in 1997.

With the ruling Liberal Party being reduced to a minority government, revelations of the sponsorship scandal damaging its popularity to the point where both the Conservative Party and the Bloc Quebecois were pressing their advantage for a snap election, the Prime Minister approached the NDP for its support. Layton demanded the cancellation of proposed corporate tax cuts and increased social spending. The ensuing compromise in the NDP's favor was protested by the other opposition parties who used it as a pretext to force a non-confidence vote. On May 19, two such votes were defeated and Layton's admendments passed. As a result, many political analysts have noted that Layton has gained increased creditibility as an effective leader of an important party, becoming the major second choice leader in many political polls - for example, polling second in Quebec after Gilles Duceppe, despite the low polls for his party as a whole in the province.

On March 21, 2005, Layton was sworn into the Queen's Privy Council for Canada.

Bibliography



Preceded by:
Alexa McDonough
NDP leaders
2003-present
Succeeded by:
incumbent
Preceded by:
Dennis Mills, Liberal
Member of Parliament for Toronto—Danforth
2004-present
Succeeded by:
incumbent

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