Interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel tells CBC Radio's The House that she'd be "really surprised" if Jack Layton didn't come back to politics after undergoing cancer treatment.
In an interview with host James Cudmore airing Saturday morning, Turmel said she felt "sad" when Layton called last weekend and informed her he was temporarily stepping aside.
But she added she couldn't see Layton walking away from federal politics if he overcomes his latest health battle.
"You know how much he loves politics, how much he loves people, how much it is important it is for him to represent families," she said. "He is the one who has to decide what to do."
Turmel was named interim leader at a meeting of the party's federal council Thursday, a day after Layton's recommendation was unanimously backed by the NDP caucus.
Layton disclosed the diagnosis on Monday and said his goal is to resume his leadership duties in time for Parliament's fall session in September.
Turmel, a rookie MP for the Quebec riding of Hull-Aylmer, said Layton did not inform her what type of cancer he is currently fighting.
"He has his reasons for that, and we have to respect his decision and to make sure that he's back in September," she said.
The former public service union leader acknowledged she will rely on senior members of her caucus in the House of Commons. But she insisted she will not be overshadowed by the more experienced Prime Minister Stephen Harper and interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae.
"People that know me in the labour movement know that I can stand to anybody," she said.
During the interview, Turmel acknowledged she is not as well-known across Canada as Layton and doesn't assume to have the same charisma as him.
Turmel, a 67-year-old mother of three and grandmother of nine who is married to a British-born Anglophone, told the CBC's Cudmore she loves outdoor sports such as tennis and skiing, as well as meeting people.
She stressed she wants to go on the road as much as possible in her new role and be accessible to the public.
"I want to reassure Canadians that we are working for them... that we are there for them," she said.
"When it's time to take on some challenges, I go to the end. I do my best, and that's how people know me."