Jack Layton is CP’s Newsmaker of the Year

He never shied away from a battle, either political or personal. Cane in hand, he led the federal NDP party with dignity and conviction, bringing the “orange crush” down upon the Bloc Quebecois en route to securing official Opposition status for the first time in Canadian history. And just when his life’s work came to a head, he passed away, his legacy secured – simultaneously a beacon for optimism and a reminder that beyond the political arenas and partisan campaigns we’re all truly, heartbreakingly human. 

Jack Layton topped the Canadian Press Newsmaker of the Year list for 2011 in a near unanimous consensus. The former NDP leader earned 90 per cent of the votes, cast by editors and news directors across Canada. Layton’s chief political rival, and the man he’d hoped to challenge directly on the parliamentary floor, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, came in second with a mere 5 per cent of the vote.

One would be hard-pressed to deny Layton the award this year, considering his courageous and inspiring professional triumphs and personal struggles. While history will record the gains he made in each election as federal NDP leader, culminating with the annihilation of the Bloc Quebecois and the title of official Opposition status for the first time, it will be his final weeks – and the words they brought with them – that Canadians who bore witness will forever remember.

After the groundbreaking election, a frail and raspy Layton announced that he was once again battling cancer. While he vowed to fight it and represent Canadians when Parliament resumed in September, Layton didn’t live to see that day. On August 22, Layton passed way, though not before crafting his now iconic letter to Canadians.

Preaching hope over fear and optimism over despair, Layton implored Canadians to love and care for each other, and help make the world a better place – words that, as cities were emblazoned in orange light and chalk memorials, echoed the spirit of a man who, in his last act, saw fit to re-assure Canadians that, “I believe in you.”

– Mike Crisolago