Layton vigil brings thousands to legislature

Thousands of people pack the steps of the Alberta legislature for a candlelight vigil in honour of federal NDP leader Jack Layton, who died Monday of cancer.
The large crowd at Wednesday night's vigil included many people who aren't NDP supporters but nevertheless came to pay their respects to party leader Jack Layton. (CBC)

Thousands of people packed the steps of the Alberta legislature Wednesday night for a candlelight vigil in honour of federal NDP leader Jack Layton, who died Monday of cancer.

"Jack has left an enduring legacy for us all," former Alberta NDP leader Raj Pannu said in a brief speech. "He touched many hearts and changed many minds. Just look at the groundswell of sympathy and grief all across this vast land."

Former and current New Democratic politicians and party members, as well as the general public, shared stories and feelings about the late Opposition leader.

Some wrote messages to Layton in chalk on the steps of the building, a means of expressing grief that has seen the premises of city hall in his home city, Toronto, covered in colourful words. A choir performed, some people left flowers and others lined up to sign condolence books.

Everyone spoke about Layton's ability to connect with people, even those that he didn't agree with.

Abdul Remtulla, left, signs a condolence book at the vigil. (CBC)

"I'm not even a New Democrat. I'm a Liberal. But when you lose someone so humble, so down to earth, so good at his job and who fights for us — I spent Monday crying," said Robb Aishford of Edmonton. "He's probably the best Prime Minister we never had, unfortunately."

Edmonton–Strathcona MP Linda Duncan was at the vigil but couldn't be in Ottawa for the start of Layton's lying-in-state on Parliament Hill.

"Tonight it's really painful for me not to be with Jack and my colleagues in Ottawa, but I have to be with my fellow Albertans," she said through tears.

The condolence books will be sent to Toronto for Layton's state funeral there on Saturday. The ceremony will be open to the public and is expected to fill 2,500-seat Roy Thomson Hall; planners are working on what to do with the overflow crowd.

NDP MP Linda Duncan says she's 'hanging in there. I'm not doing great.' (CBC)
Abdul Remtulla, who signed one of the books, said Layton had wide appeal because he spoke to issues that affected people "as well as anybody."

"I believe all these people are here because… he cared for grassroots, ordinary people," Remtulla said.

Layton's body will return to Toronto on Thursday night so that people can pay their respects during the day Friday at city hall and Saturday morning before the funeral.