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Jack Layton 2003-2011.
Alexa McDonough 1995-2003.
Audrey McLaughlin 1989-1995.
Ed Broadbent 1975-1989.
David Lewis 1971-1975.
Tommy Douglas 1961-1971.

Jack Layton: Hope, Optimism and Canadian Leadership

In 2011, Layton brought the party to incredible new heights. Voters in the May 2 election elected a record-breaking 103 NDP MPs to represent every part of the country. Layton became leader of the largest Official Opposition in 31 years—and the first formed by New Democrats. With 59 Quebec MPs, Layton’s team emerged not only as a credible government-in-waiting but as a force for Canadian unity.

A native Montrealer, Layton later moved to Toronto to complete his Masters and PhD. He taught in all of Toronto’s universities, and served nearly 20 years as a city councillor in Toronto. He also served as President of the Federation of Canadians Municipalities where he forged a united and powerful lobby that led to a new national focus on the state of Canada’s municipalities and the services they deliver.

Layton was elected MP in Toronto-Danforth in the 2004 federal election which saw the NDP’s national vote climb by more than one million votes.

Months after taking his place in Parliament, Layton displayed his remarkable ability to get things done for families. By rewriting the 2005 budget, Layton successfully diverted $4.6-billion in corporate tax giveaways to important priorities like affordable housing, training and public transit.

On August 22, 2011, Layton died after a long battle with cancer. His memory lives on in every person who believes in a better tomorrow, and every person who believes we can make our great country even better. As Jack famously said, “don’t let them tell you it can’t be done!”

A letter to Canadians from the Honourable Jack Layton

Alexa McDonough: Standing up for Medicare

Alexa McDonough became the Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada in October 1995.

Elected leader of the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party in 1980, McDonough was the only New Democrat and only woman in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly until 1984. She was re-elected in 1984, 1988 and 1993.

She earned a reputation as a tenacious advocate for Nova Scotians by leading the fight for -- and winning -- the first ban on extra medicare billing in Canada, worker health and safety improvements and human rights protections.

In the federal general election of June 2, 1997, McDonough and 20 other New Democrats were elected Members of Parliament.

The NDP caucus in the House of Commons pursued a determined course, demanding the Liberal government set targets to reduce unemployment in the same way governments set targets for reducing deficits. McDonough and her caucus colleagues were also at the forefront of the fight to save medicare, the Canada Pension Plan and Canada’s unemployment insurance system.

Audrey McLaughlin: First Woman to Lead Major Federal Party

Audrey McLaughlin had a varied career as a farmer, teacher, social worker and consultant before she decided to add politics to the list in 1987. That year, she was the first New Democrat ever to win a House of Commons seat in the Yukon. McLaughlin was re-elected in 1988 and 1993, and in 1989, she was chosen as leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada. McLaughlin became the first woman to ever lead a major federal party in Canada.

For the next six years, she led the Party through a tumultuous time, including five years under Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government.

McLaughlin stepped down as leader in October 1995 and announced she would not seek re-election. She later served as President of the Socialist International Women and special representative for the Government of the Yukon on Circumpolar Affairs. She was also made an Officer of the Order of Canada for her past efforts toward social justice.

Ed Broadbent: Growth & Influence

Ed Broadbent, the Member of Parliament for Oshawa, succeeded David Lewis as Party leader in 1975.

Broadbent emphasized economic issues, and 1984 he waged a brilliant campaign emphasizing tax reforms, lower interest rates and equality for women. That election saw the New Democratic Party emerge with 30 seats, only 10 fewer than the Liberals.

In the 1988 federal general election campaign, Broadbent led New Democrats in a campaign that elected 43 NDP MPs in the House of Commons, the largest number ever at the time. Broadbent retired as leader in December 1989 and went on to become the founding president of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development.

In 2004, Broadbent returned to federal politics and was elected MP for Ottawa Centre, a seat held by the Liberals for the previous 16 years. He served as the NDP critic for democratic reform and served as a beacon of respect and civility at a time when Canadians were rapidly losing faith in Parliament and their federal politicians.

He announced his retirement in May 2005. He is now the founding President of the Broadbent Institute.

David Lewis: Making Minority Parliament Work

David Lewis succeeded Tommy Douglas as leader of the New Democratic Party in 1971.

A Rhodes scholar and a lawyer, Lewis held a variety of executive positions with the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation.

During the 1950s, Lewis worked tirelessly to forge a link between the Canadian social democratic and the labour movements. Through his efforts, the primarily western farm-based CCF was transformed into the more urban and successful New Democratic Party.

Campaigning against “corporate welfare bums”, Lewis achieved his greatest political prominence in 1972 when New Democrats held the balance of power during the Liberal minority government of 1972-1974. Parliament introduced a national affordable housing strategy, a new Elections Expenses Act, pension indexing and created Petro-Canada and the Foreign Investment Review Agency, because of NDP support.

Following his defeat in the 1974 federal election, Lewis stepped down as leader but remained active in the Party until his death in 1981.

Tommy Douglas: The Greatest Canadian

As premier of Saskatchewan, Tommy Douglas made history by leading the first social democratic government ever elected in North America.

After 17 years as Premier, he made history again as the founding leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada in 1961.

As the premier of Saskatchewan, Douglas became a symbol of what social democracy promised. His government was innovative and efficient, balanced the budget every year, and pioneered many programs that would later be replicated by others.

Douglas was known as one of progressive Canada’s most eloquent spokespeople. During his time as NDP leader, he helped ensure the introduction of Medicare, public pensions and the expansion of Canada’s social safety net in successive minority Parliaments.

Tommy Douglas retired from politics in 1979 and died in Ottawa in 1986.

In 2004, nearly twenty years after his death, Tommy Douglas was voted “The Greatest Canadian” in a national CBC Television contest. Among the nominees who Douglas edged out for the title were Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau and Terry Fox.

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Thomas Mulcair