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Mourning Jack, passing his torch

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It's perhaps a little unsavoury but not all that surprising that Jack Layton's funeral hasn't even happened yet and already talk is ramping up about who will replace him.

Nobody wants to overshadow the time for reflection.

But neither would Layton himself want the party he devoted so much time building, to collapse in his absence. He as much said so in his final letter to Canadians, penned less than 48 hours before he died.

As I write this, his casket is being carried into the Parliament Buildings where he will lie in state today and tomorrow. The casket will be in the foyer outside the House of Commons which is quite fitting -- it was the place Layton spent countless hours scrumming with the media. It was where he helped trigger the recent federal election by announcing -- somewhat surprisingly -- that he wouldn't support the Conservative budget. Of course, most people thought he was a bit nuts at the time for pushing an election when he had just had hip surgery. Clearly he knew something the rest of us didn't since the election was the most successful for the NDP in Canadian history.

Layton was only available to enjoy the rewards of becoming opposition leader briefly before a second cancer diagnosis forced him to temporarily step down as leader in July. He died Monday morning at his home in Toronto.

Former Manitoba Premier Gary Doer will be among the honorary pallbearers at Layton's funeral in Toronto Saturday along with former federal NDP leaders Ed Broadbent and Alexa McDonough.

Doer's name has already been tossed around as a possible leadership candidate to succeed Layton, and his appearance as a pallbearer could stoke the flames on that rumour even further.

Doer is widely considered to be among the most successful NDP politicians in Canada. He won three consecutive majority governments in Manitoba between 1999 and 2007, each one bigger than the last. In 2009 he stepped down and was appointed to the ambassador's job by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Harper likely won't be thrilled with talk the man he gave a plum appointment to is among the possible successors who could take him on in the next election.

Plus Doer and Harper, despite their places on the political spectrum, have often had as much in common as Doer ever did with Layton and the federal NDP. Doer was always a loyal soldier to the NDP -- usually introducing Layton whenever Layton was in Manitoba for an engagement. But the two often disagreed.

In particular they parted ways on issues such as the gun registry (Doer was against it, Layton supported it) and Canada's involvement in Afghanistan.

Doer's more centrist politics are what could be both a boon and a detractor for him. Some could see him as a candidate who can bring the left together, working to defeat the Conservatives. But there are also many in the NDP who will think he is not left-leaning enough and will sell out the party's principles.

Doer has a pretty good gig in Washington -- he always craved a diplomatic posting -- and has also been enjoying a slightly less public, less time-consuming job . (Being able to spend more than a weekend at his cottage near Kenora was one of the things he has said he was most looking forward to once he became ambassador).

Will he want to leave that all behind for a run at a federal political leadership position? It's certainly more attractive now than it was six months ago when a run for the NDP leadership would have landed him as the head of the fourth biggest party in Canada. Now if he ran and won, he'd get the keys to Stornoway, the official opposition residence, and a chance to become prime minister in 2015.

Chief among the reasons he won't likely run is language. He's a smart guy but has never been able to master French. Whoever runs for the leadership is going to have to speak French considering 59 of the 103 NDP MPs are from Quebec. The leadership race is likely to occur early next year and there is not much time for Doer to master French in time to prove to NDP faithful he can win in Quebec.

Other names being tossed around include Thomas Mulcair and Brian Topp. Mulcair being the Quebec caucus leader and former Quebec Liberal cabinet minister who gave the party its first seat in Quebec in years in a 2007 byelection. Topp is the new party president, a long time NDP staffer and close confidante of Layton's. He was among those present when Layton wrote his final letter to Canadians.

The leadership race will jump into high gear after Layton's funeral.

 

-- Mia Rabson / Capital Chronicles

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About Mia Rabson

Mia Rabson is a born and bred Winnipegger whose interest in politics seemed clear when she dressed up as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Halloween in the 7th grade.

Her interest in writing was no surprise to her parents, who learned early in Mia’s life that no piece of blank paper — or wall, for that matter — was safe in her hands.

She holds an honours BA in English from Queen’s University, a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Centre for Politics and Journalism.

Prior to working for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mia briefly worked for the Detroit News in the paper’s Washington bureau.

Mia joined the Free Press team in February 2001, and in April 2001 was appointed to the Manitoba legislature bureau. In December 2004, she was appointed bureau chief at the legislature. She became the newspaper’s parliamentary bureau chief/national reporter in Ottawa in January 2008.

In 2008 she was nominated for a Michener Award with a team of reporters from the Free Press for its coverage of the province’s child welfare system.

She counts reliving the invasion at Dieppe, France, with veterans of the failed Second World War expedition and overcoming her fear of heights to touch the Golden Boy statue atop the Legislative Building among her favourite experiences as a reporter.

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