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Planning begins in earnest for Jack Layton's 'celebration of life'

People read from a wall which has been made into a tribute to the late NDP leader Jack Layton at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto on Tuesday August 23, 2011

Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press

Jack Layton asked that his funeral be public and a "celebration of life." In his final days, the NDP leader – whose keen political mind was always on overdrive – directed his closest aides and his family as to how he wanted to be remembered.

His funeral is not to be just about him, according to senior aide Kathleen Monk, but is instead to be "used as an opportunity to build the movement, inspire people to work for change and create a better Canada."

Planning now begins in earnest for Mr. Layton's state funeral, which is to be held Saturday afternoon, likely around 2 p.m., at Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall. His body will also lie in the foyer of the House of Commons, where he conducted so many scrums with reporters. (The Hall of Honour is where prime ministers and governors-general lie in state.)

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The lying-in-state for Mr Layton will take place Wednesday and Thursday. It will be open to the public from 12:30 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday and from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday.

An online book of condolences has also been set up by the government.

Canadians can also pay tribute to Mr. Layton as he lies in repose at Toronto City Hall on Friday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Saturday from at 9 a.m. until 11 a.m.

In addition, the NDP announced Tuesday that their MPs constituency offices will be open for Canadians to sign books of condolences.

Government officials are expecting, too, that Roy Thomson Hall, which can accommodate 2,500 people, will be filled to capacity.

It is rare that an opposition leader is given a state funeral but the Prime Minister can bestow the honour on eminent Canadians at his discretion. Stephen Harper extended the offer to Mr. Layton's family for his contribution to public life and it was accepted.

Mr. Layton's widow, Toronto MP Olivia Chow, is said to be sad and devastated but has a steely resolve to see his wishes carried out. As Anne McGrath, Mr. Layton's long-time chief of staff, told The Globe: "She's been amazing through all of this. She's a pillar of strength, his true love and his support and she's always thinking about him first, which I think you have to do with someone that political."

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And the vigils Monday night that took place across Canada, including one organized on Parliament Hill by Ottawa NDP MP Paul Dewar that attracted nearly 1,000 people, "have been incredibly heartening for the family, especially Mr. Layton's children, Sarah and Mike."

There were no speeches. Rather, the crowd spontaneously sang O Canada and someone played We Shall Overcome on the accordion. Mr. Dewar said he was surprised by the number of different people, young and old, and the fact that they had connected with a man they "only saw from a distance."

"It was sublime, beautiful and Jack would have loved it," he added.

In fact, there was still much evidence on Parliament Hill early Tuesday morning. Candles were still burning and flower tributes were laid against fencing on the Hill. There was even a box of Orange Crush.

Mr. Layton died early Monday morning, succumbing to cancer at 61.

Amid the pomp and circumstance and protocol of Mr. Layton's state funeral will be touches of the common man and the kind of politician that he was. The public will be invited in some way to participate, Ms. Monk said.

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Canadian musician Lorraine Segato will sing her 80s pop classic, Rise Up, which has become an anthem for the NDP. Former leader Ed Broadbent's team played the song every time their plane took off in the 1984 campaign.

And Ms. Segato was part of Mr. Layton's 2003 leadership campaign; she is a family friend. Music was so much a part of Mr. Layton's life – he was often seen with his guitar – and so it is expected that more musicians will be appearing at the funeral.

Missed opportunities between political rivals

Prime Minister Stephen Harper lamented Monday the fact that he and Mr. Layton, both musicians, were never able to get together to play. They had talked about it but they never found the time to make it happen.

Mr. Harper said: "I will always regret the jam session that never was. It's a reminder to make time for loved ones and family whenever we can."

And in the Prime Minister's condolence phone call Monday, Olivia Chow recalled to Mr. Harper how his wife, Laureen, had promised Mr. Layton a steak dinner. According to Ms. Monk, Ms. Chow told him "how sad it was that Jack never got the chance to take her up on the offer."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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