Photo:  After battling prostate cancer, Jack Layton announced, “I’m almost vegan.”  Here he is seen during the election campaign eating a thick smoked meat sandwich in Schwartz Deli in Montreal.

    Jack Layton has just done something never done before in Canada.  In Monday’s federal election, he moved the left wing New Democratic Party from it’s chronic third place position, to a second place finish.  Under Layton, the NDP surged to 105 seats, making him the opposition leader.  He and his wife Olivia Chow — she was re-elected Monday as an NDP Member of Parliament — will now move into Stornoway, the official residence of Canada’s opposition leader.

      Layton and Chow are fighters, in more ways than one.  Layton announced last year that he was battling prostate cancer, the same type of cancer his father had battled.  Chow previously battled thyroid cancer while a Member of Parliament.

        Shortly before this year’s federal election, Layton had another health set back.  He fractured his hip, although he doesn’t know how, and had to enter hospital for surgery.  He walked with a cane throughout the election campaign, but his health problems were not an issue in the campaign.  In Canada, a national hero is after all Terry Fox, who had his leg amputated at the knee after getting cancer, then ran across Canada to raise money for cancer research, only to die when the cancer returned.

          Chow represents another first too: she will be the first Chinese-Canadian elected official to take up residence in Stornoway.
          Layton and Chow will have a tough battle in Parliament though.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives won 165 seats and no long need to make concessions to the NDP, as they did when they had a minority government.  Harper’s distaste for policies that the left and liberals have brought to Canada was reflected in a memo leaked to the media during his early days in power; Harper said Canada had become a “Northern European welfare state” that had to be turned around.  The Harper Conservatives rode on the success of Liberal Party policies though to get votes, taking credit for a stable banking system in turbulent times, while omitting the fact that the stability was a result of banking regulations created by the Liberals, regulations that Harper had fought while in opposition.
          There was yet another first in tonight’s elections results too.  The Green Party won it’s first federal seat in Canada with the election of it’s leader, Elizabeth May, on the British Columbia coast.
          The Bloc Quebecois, a party which has as it’s goal the separation of Quebec from Canada, was almost wiped out.  It’s supporters swung to the NDP, leaving the Bloc with just 2 seats.  It’s leader, Gilles Duceppe, lost his own seat and resigned as leader.  Harper, who has learned to speak French while in office but is not popular in Quebec, could learn a lesson: he can win a majority without Quebec.
          Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff, who was exposed in an attack ad as having said Canada’s maple leaf flag was “passable as a beer label”, lost his seat too.  Ignatieff who had been an absentee Canadian for two decades, failed to click with voters when he returned from the U.S., where he taught at Harvard, to lead the Liberal Party.  Despite having been the ruling party in Canada for decades, the Liberals were reduced to just 35 seats in the election.

        The U.S. government may be surprised to see Layton and Chow taking up residence in Stornoway. Just days before the election, Wikkileaks released a compilation of U.S. government observations on Canadian politics, documents in which it was noted that the Liberal Party was in a state of “disarray”, but the NDP was not a strong enough contender to ever become the opposition.  Laughter has proven to be an effective therapy for keeping disease in remission.

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