Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavik August 23, 2011 - 1:28 pm

Nunavik’s MP mourns the loss of his friend and leader Jack Layton

“I was honoured to serve with him"

JANE GEORGE
NDP leader Jack Layton poses with Abitibi-James Bay-Nunavik-Eeyou candidate — now MP — Romeo Saganash during a campaign stop in Val d'Or last spring. Saganash says he's mourning the loss of Layton
NDP leader Jack Layton poses with Abitibi-James Bay-Nunavik-Eeyou candidate — now MP — Romeo Saganash during a campaign stop in Val d'Or last spring. Saganash says he's mourning the loss of Layton "above all as a friend." (FILE PHOTO)

(updated at 3:30 p.m.)

The Aug. 22 death of Jack Layton, the leader of the New Democratic Party, hit Nunavik’s MP Romeo Saganash hard.

Layton’s smile, openness and accessibility are what he’ll miss most, Saganash said, calling Layton’s death a “huge loss for his immediate family and his political family.”

“Above all, he was my friend,” Saganash told Nunatsiaq News Aug. 23.

Talking to reporters in a hoarse voice at an Aug. 22 news conference in Val-d’or, a grief-stricken Saganash, who had to stop occasionally to collect himself before he could continue speaking, said how devastated he was by the loss of his dear friend and party leader.

“Jack Layton was a man who was always acccessible. That was probably the greatest legacy he leaves to all Canadians,” Saganash said.

Their friendship went back several years, to 2006 when Layton asked him to join forces with the NDP.

“He often consulted me about native issues,” Saganash said.

Layton finally convinced Saganash, a Cree lawyer with the Grand Council of Crees, to run in Abitibi-James Bay-Nunavik-Eeyou.

After Saganash won the seat with 45 per cent of the vote on May 2, Layton named Saganash as the official opposition critic to natural resources.

“I was honoured to serve with him even if it was only for a short time in the House and to sit behind him,”  Saganash said.

NDP MPs will carry on Layton’s vision for Canada, continue to build on the impressive election results of last May’s election, and work for all their constituents, he said.

“I was elected to do that, and that’s what I’ll do, with or without Jack,” he said.

Layton had told him “if I’m not there with you, you have to continue.”

Saganash will go ahead with plans to officially open his Val-d’or constituency office as planned on Aug. 24.

Saganash said he believes the NDP’s 103 MPs will work even harder when Parliament resumes sitting Sept. 19 because “we have a job to do.”

Experts have offered a variety of predictions about the NDP’s fortunes without Layton.

“The NDP has definitely lost a strong figure in Parliament,” said Queen’s University political scientist Kathy Brock. “He spoke out with a sense of compassion. And I think that’s what Canadians really wanted to hear — a compassionate voice in Parliament.

“He was someone who understood the Conservatives, who could hold them to account and who also knew when to compromise with them, and when they could win battles together.
“I think he would have been a very strong critic, someone who would have held the government to account on key issues. He had great political instincts.”

Layton, 61, died of cancer early on Aug. 22, surrounded by his family and friends.

But in a letter written just before his death, he urged others afflicted with the disease not to give up hope.

In a letter dated Aug. 20, released by his family on the date of his death two days later, he wrote: “To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope.

“Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined and focused on the future.

“My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer.”

Saganash last saw Layton in late July, but Saganash, whose father died from cancer, said he could see that Layton was in pain before Parliament recessed for the summer.

Saganash plans to go to Layton’s funeral which will take place at 2 p.m. on Aug. 27 at Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto.

The Lying-in-State will take place in the foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa on Aug. 24 and Aug. 25. It will be open to the public from 12:30 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 24 and from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 25.

To convey condolences to Layton’s family, you can visit http://www.commemoration.gc.ca.

Saganash’s new constituency office at 888 3ieme ave. Suite 204 Val-d’or can be reached at 1-888-824-2942 or 1-819-824-2942.

with files from Postmedia News

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