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Jack Layton's death leaves Quebec caucus 'orphaned'

<span id="ctl00_bodyData_ctl04_TopsUI_Body">MONTREAL - Even before his death, Jack Layton cast a long shadow over the motley group that forms the NDP's Quebec caucus.</span>

MONTREAL - Even before his death, Jack Layton cast a long shadow over the motley group that forms the NDP's Quebec caucus.

It
was his personality — and his reputation for being a "bon gars" — that
was largely credited for a stunning NDP surge that saw the party win 59
of Quebec's 75 seats in last May's election.

The party's
candidates in the province were nearly an afterthought despite their
role in ending nearly two decades of Bloc Quebecois dominance.

But
with expectations now high about what the NDP can deliver Quebecers,
the group must emerge from a shadow that has just become much bigger.

Layton's death means the party's Quebec MPs must try to consolidate their gains without the man who led them into battle.

"It leaves us a bit orphaned at the moment," said Guy Caron, president of the NDP's Quebec caucus.

"We will miss Jack Layton as a leader, that's obvious. I don't think we can hide that."

In
an indication of just how important the province is to the party's
future, Layton's deathbed letter to Canadians included a whole
paragraph addressed to Quebec.

It reassures Quebecers that the
MPs they elected on May 2 are indeed up to the task of being a
progressive voice for the province in Ottawa.

"You made the
right decision then; it is still the right decision today; and it will
be the right decision right through to the next election, when we will
succeed, together," the letter reads.

The NDP's Quebec caucus is a disparate group composed of many political rookies, including some university students.

Since the election, several of them have drawn criticism for their inexperience and past ties to sovereignty.

Even
interim party leader Nycole Turmel hasn't been able to duck the
broadsides, coming under attack for having held a membership in the
Bloc Quebecois until deciding to run for the NDP.

Indeed it is Quebec's linguistic and constitutional status that presents the most formidable obstacle for the new crop of MPs.

Layton
forged a niche position within the Canadian political spectrum,
incorporating many demands of die-hard Quebec nationalists within the
fold of a federalist party.

It was a position that prompted
Pierre Curzi, a former Parti Quebecois legislative member and
well-known hardline sovereigntist, to tweet that Layton "briefly
incarnated for Quebec the hope for change."

But will the centre hold without Layton's galvanizing presence?

Those close to the party say it is important not to overestimate Layton's role at the expense of those working behind him.

"The
party is bigger than Jack, even though sometimes it didn't appear that
way," said Diana Bronson, a former policy director for Layton who now
lives in Montreal.

"The 59 MPs who have been elected for four
years have only gone through a few months, so they have a lot of time
before they meet the polls again."

Caron said Layton's legacy
lay in a way of conducting politics that emphasized optimism as opposed
to cynicism. It was an approach that resonated with Quebecers, he said.

"He saw politics differently," Caron added. "It's up to us MPs to carry this torch."

But
analysts predicted it would be difficult to find a replacement for
Layton who will be able to move as easily in so many different
political circles.

"With Layton we had someone who was mostly
identified with Toronto, but who grew up in Quebec, spoke French
well... and did well on Quebec television programs," said McGill
professor Will Straw, who heads the university's Institute for the
Study of Canada.

"The choice of a leader who stands for their
significant inroads in Quebec but also builds on the NDP's traditional
strength in Ontario, British Columbia and elsewhere... is going to be a
real challenge."

Straw believes that arithmetic favours the next
leader being from Quebec. He said the likely front-runner is Montreal
MP Thomas Mulcair, who was the party's lone Quebec MP before the May 2
election.

Mulcair is largely credited with laying the groundwork
for the Quebec surge. He is also known in Quebec from his days as a
provincial cabinet minister.

His office did not return calls on Monday.

 
 
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