New Democratic Party MP Nycole Turmel speaks following a caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa July 27, 2011.
Credits: REUTERS/Chris Wattie
New Democrats gathered to discuss temporary leadership options after Layton announced Monday he is stepping down to fight his second battle with cancer.
Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel - the former president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada - will take over for Layton in his absence. The party's federal council is set to rubber-stamp the decision Thursday.
"I'm overwhelmed by the support of the caucus," Turmel said. "I'm also ready to take on the job as long as the federal council accepts the recommendation of the caucus."
Layton, who helped the party become the official Opposition for the first time in its 50-year history, had previously struggled with prostate cancer, but was recently diagnosed with a different form of the disease.
The NDP leader also had hip surgery before the last election.
Political scientists say Layton's absence is a huge challenge for the party, but say the next election is four long years away.
"The leader is gone - you can define that as a crisis," said University of Toronto politics professor Nelson Wiseman. "But you can't overplay it. They have all kinds of time."
Layton hopes to return in September, but Wiseman does not expect him to return when the House of Commons reconvenes.
NDP deputy leader Libby Davies said the NDP supported each other and their long-time leader during Wednesday's caucus meeting. Layton was able to participate by phone.
"We face a very difficult situation," Davies said. "There is great strength in solidarity."
Some NDP MPs went to great lengths to get back to Ottawa for the meeting.
Joe Comartin and Irene Mathyssen left their spouses in Europe to make it back for the last-minute gathering on Parliament Hill. The two MPs were in London for a meeting of Commonwealth countries but arranged for flights back to Canada.
Glenn Thibeault also burned rubber on his motorcycle for 17 hours to attend. The Sudbury, Ont., MP was on a bike trip with his friend near Chicago when he learned the news about his leader.
"It was too important for me to miss," said Thibeault, who arrived in Ottawa late Tuesday evening. "You come together to be a stronger team."