NDP leader Jack Layton passes away at 61

New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton passed away early Monday morning after a long battle with cancer.

He passed away peacefully at his Toronto home, surrounded by his family and loved ones according to a statement released by his wife Olivia Chow and his children, Sarah and Michael Layton.

“We deeply regret to inform you that The Honourable Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, passed away at 4:45 a.m. today, Monday August 22,” said the statement.

“He passes away peacefully at his home surrounded by family and loved ones.”

The 61 year-old announced less than a month ago that he was taking time off to undergo treatment for a new form of cancer.

Layton had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2009 and had undergone treatment for it.

Layton also led the NDP to a historic victory, becoming the Official Opposition in the House of Commons on the May 2 federal election.

The NDP claimed 103 seats, including the Western Arctic seat.

Canadians across the country expressed their sadness on Monday.

“Like all Canadians, Arlene and I are deeply saddened by the death of Jack Layton,” said Liberal Leader Bob Rae in a release.

“He was a friend of ours for many years, and despite our political differences his decency, good humour and extraordinary resilience earned our deep admiration. We remained friends throughout our political lives. On behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada and our Parliamentary Caucus, I express our deep condolences to Olivia and Jack’s family, as well as to his colleagues and friends in the New Democratic Party. He leaves a powerful legacy of a commitment to social justice in his work in Toronto as a city councillor and as a national leader.”

NDP Interim Leader Nycole Turmel also released a statement early on Monday which was posted on the NDP website.

“Jack was a courageous man,” she said.

“It was his leadership that inspired me, and so many others, to run for office. We – Members of Parliament, New Democrats and Canadians – need to pull together now and carry on his fight to make this country a better place.”

A letter was released on Monday afternoon that Layton addressed to Canadians in the event that he could not continue.

The letter was written on Saturday, less than 48 hours before he passed away.

“Unfortunately, my treatment has not worked out as I hoped,” he wrote.

“So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.”

He offered words of hope for others fighting cancer, asking them not to give up although he did not win his own battle.

He recommended that the NDP keep Turmel as their leader “until a permanent successor is elected” and suggested that a leadership vote be held “as early as possible in the New Year.”

“Mr. Layton’s political accomplishments, particularly during the most recent federal election, are well known and documented for all Canadians,” said Premier Floyd Roland on Monday.

“He will be remembered, in large part, for changing the political landscape of our country and for his trademark spirit of optimism and hope.”

“In the coming days and months, Jack Layton will be heralded for his political accomplishments and hard work. More importantly he will be remembered through the years as a great Canadian – missed by his many colleagues, friends and loved ones.”

A state funeral has been arranged for Layton – an honour usually reserved for current or former governor generals, prime ministers and current ministers of cabinet.

It will take place on Saturday at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto.