Olivia Chow to avoid NDP leadership endorsement

In a wide-ranging interview with CBC chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge, Olivia Chow talks about the future of the NDP, Jack Layton's battle with cancer and what her late husband taught her.

MP and widow of Jack Layton says backing any candidate would be unfair

The future and Olivia Chow

12 years ago
Duration 20:39
Peter Mansbridge in conversation with MP Olivia Chow, widow of late NDP leader Jack Layton

Olivia Chow doesn't plan to endorse any candidate to succeed her late husband as leader of the New Democratic Party.

In an interview with CBC chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge that aired on The National Monday night, the NDP MP said she wouldn't be a candidate for the job herself, nor would she endorse someone.

"That wouldn’t be fair," she said. "That really wouldn’t be fair. I don’t think so."

Many people, she suggested, could carry on with Jack Layton's dream for the party.

"The values are eternal." she said. "It’s in all of us. And if that — if those values come forward, people have it inside them to do good things. Jack is a special person, especially for me. Very, very special … We’ve done so much together. But many other people can do the kind of politics he does, right? It’s inside us. It’s possible."

Having battled prostate cancer to an apparent standstill early in 2011, Layton campaigned energetically in the five weeks leading up to the May 2 election. The NDP won 103 seats, trouncing the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec and achieving Official Opposition status in Parliament for the first time in history.

His sudden turn for the worse on July 25, when he announced that he was stepping down temporarily to be treated for what he called a "new cancer," stunned many.

Olivia Chow describes Jack Layton as fearless to the end. (CBC)
Chow remained adamant with Mansbridge that the particular type of cancer that overtook Layton on Aug. 22 won't be revealed.

"Some treatments work, others don't. That's why we don't talk about what treatment, what cancer, because you want to give hope to other cancer patients," she said.

"Just because that treatment didn’t work on him doesn’t mean it didn’t work on other people …," she said.

'It’s the cycle of life — death and life and let’s just keep moving forward and doing our work. That’s what he wants us to do.'—Olivia Chow

"Cancer cells are just — they’re all different on different people. And that’s why he wanted to not talk about what cancer, what treatment. Because he wanted to give other cancer patients that hope."

Chow said there had been no sign of this secondary cancer during the campaign, and that her husband seemed  fine, even at the post-election parliamentary session in June.

"It was just the last few days that he started getting — that pain was intensifying," she said.

Mansbridge asked her about Layton's final moments with her.

"I told him that things are in order," she said. "He wrote something to say that he has no fear, because he knows that he can trust me. That his soul is his spirit. That when he passes on in his next journey that I will be with him.

"That was really touching. He wrote it on his iPad a week before."

And Chow, who has represented the Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina since 2006 and sat with Layton on Toronto city council, described her husband as fearless to the end.

Grateful to Harper

"The last hours were, ah, just peaceful, as he was taking the last breath. And knowing that he had no fear, knowing that he had a good life, he did what he can, and watching [daughter] Sarah being pregnant again with another baby. It’s the cycle of life — death and life and let’s just keep moving forward and doing our work. That’s what he wants us to do."

She said she was thankful for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's offer of a state funeral, though it came at a moment of much confusion.

"I was in such [a] state of grief," she said. "Just to hear the prime minister's voice was great and then he asked me that question. I thanked him and said yes. Was I surprised? I don't know. I wasn't in a state of mind to be calculating whether I should or shouldn't be surprised. I don't know. It was a bit of a fog."

As for her personal well-being, Chow said she swims — something Layton, a strong swimmer, helped her with.

'Never say it can't be done'

"Swimming has the advantage of — you can cry and people won't see you," she said. "Swimming is something that he and I did a lot together. So I thought, okay, let's get back in the water. And that was — that was helpful."

Mansbridge asked Chow what was the most important thing Layton taught her. She replied:

"Never say it can't be done, literally. Because I was a terrible swimmer. And now I can swim two kilometres an hour, all strokes. I can swim really fast. When you put your mind to doing something it can be done. I'm determined in other ways but not as fearless as he was."

The party's federal council is meeting next week to set up the rules that will govern the leadership race. A date and location for a leadership convention must also be decided upon.

Possible candidates include NDP deputy leaders Thomas Mulcair and Libby Davies, MPs Megan Leslie, Francoise Boivin, Robert Chisholm, Romeo Saganash and Peter Julian, and party president Brian Topp.