Jack Layton, (1950–2011)

Most Canadians will know Jack Layton as the man who orchestrated a stunning breakthrough by the federal New Democratic Party (NDP) in Canada’s 2011 elections, when the NDP became the country’s official opposition for the first time in its history.

But for three decades, Layton had dedicated himself to public service, with remarkable passion and a determination to build a better Canada. After graduating with a BA in political science from McGill in 1971, he rose to prominence in Toronto municipal politics, where he was known as a force to be reckoned with on municipal councils.

In 2003 he was elected head of the NDP, where he doubled the popular vote for the party in his first 12 months. In the following years, the party won more seats in election than it had in 20 years, culminating in a historic 103 seats to form the official opposition in May 2011.

Among other causes, Layton pushed legislative proposals for action on climate change, and he was a tireless advocate of women’s empowerment and nuclear non-proliferation.

His death in August 2011, just three months after his landmark victory in Ottawa, galvanized Canadians across the political spectrum. He was awarded the rare honour of a state funeral, where both friends and opponents spoke of his incredible drive and unforgettable personality.