Now that the justified praise at the time of Jack Layton’s death has begun to subside, is this an appropriate time to investigate his medical records?.  To put it in so many words:  “Does the public have the right to know the type of cancer that killed him.?

We know that his widow, Olivia Chow, maintains the answer is no.  She says it was a choice made by her husband so “the hopes of other cancer patients suffering from the same illness” would not be dashed.

Does this mean an active political leader may disguise from the public that he is suffering from a serious even life-threatening disease?

Is Olivia Chow’s answer entirely satisfactory?

Not to Dr. Lorne Brandes, an oncologist who often deals with patients who have prostate cancer, it isn’t.  He writes in the “overall context of the information gap surrounding specific details of Jack Layton’s illness, Ms. Chow’s answer seems ingenuous at best, and evasive at worst.”  In  Dr. Brandes’s opinion, Mr. Layton, given his public position as a political leader, should have disclosed the nature of the new cancer. 

There is a certain logic to this position.  The public has the right to know whether their political leaders have serious medical problems.  Just suppose Mr. Layton had been elected prime minister.

Would Amnerican voters want to know whether Mitt Romney or Governor Perry have a serious medical condition?

Should Jack Layton’s medical records now be open to the public?

What do you think?

Is Olivia Chow’s answer entirely satisfactory


  1. 1
    Tony Kondaks Says:

    Great question. I wonder how the NDP would have fared in the elections had his records been publicly available AND they revealed his cancer had returned.

    I think I know how Michael Ignatieff would answer Neil’s question. It’s largely accepted that much of the NDP’s success was due to Layton’s personal appeal an,,d if, due to his medical reasons being public, he had been out of the picure, the Liberals probably would have done much better.

    But not in Quebec. I’m convinced Quebec voted massively NDP by virtue of the UDI-supporting and UDI-enabling Sherbrooke Declaration, official NDP policy; Lauton’s health or presence as leader wouldn’t have made much difference.

    The more important question is what would the NDP do if thry ever formed the government and Quebec declared a UDI. There’s a leadership race going on now and I believe this question should be put to the candidates.

    Indeed, I believe that an NDP Prime Minister who implemented his party’s Sherbrooke Declaration would violate his Oath of Office. See:

  2. 2
    Neil McKenty Says:


    Your insertion of the NDP’s Sherbrooke Declaration into this discussion is a very valid point. The Declaration states that a referendum won by the separatists with 50 plus one vote would be enough for Quebec to seccede from Canada. This would seem to be at variance with a uling by the Supreme Court on the matter. Also I agree the NDP leaDERSHIP candidates should be asked about the Sherbrooke Declaration. I wonder what Thomas Mulcair would say.

  3. 3
    Tony Kondaks Says:

    Neil: my gut tells me that the 50% plus one thing isn’t sitting well with NDP members in the rest of Canada. This leadership race very well may become the forum in which this issue is thrashed out…both in the party and outside it in Canada at large.

    If so, the implications are tremendous because if there is an ROC backlash and either the party (at the next convention) or the leader reverses their position on Sherbrooke, you can count on a MASSIVE defection by most of the fifty plus Quebec NDP MPs over to the Bloc.

    Oh, and it will also be perceived in Quebec as a humiliation against Quebec on a scale that rivals the humiliation that was the rejection of the Meech Lake Accord by the ROC in 1990. And we all remember what THAT led to (hint: it happened in1995 and it almost resulted in the end of the country).

  4. 4
    jim Says:

    Tony – You wrote an excellect summary and insert. I must disagree with your third paragraph, wherein you state that Quebecers voted for the NDP because they were in favour of the UDI clause. Most Quebecers are romantics, and vote with their heart and not with their head. Except for the separatists, they wouldn’t know a UID from a IUD. As to the separatists, most of them want independence under some sort of a leaky Canadian umbrella, and not total independence. In the meantime the era of the ‘rise and fall’ of the separatists is in full play. They are one step ahead of the USA, they are destroying themselves from within. The reason Jack Layton made great inroads in Quebec was by way of, once again Quebecers voting with their hearts. He looked and sounded like a “pur laine” down-homer complete with the toothpick. When Quebecers listened to him talking and playing their tune. They would bring out their fiddles and stomp their feet to the sorrowful tune of “Hello Central, give me heaven, for my mama’s there, she’ll be sitting with the angels on the golden stairs…” “Will you stop that noise and bring out the scrambled eggs, ham, potatoes, maple syrup, poutine and tortiere” “Jim, please say grace”.

  5. 5


    Dammit, whence comes this insatiable thrist to know the most intimate details of someone else’s misery? It is no one’s business. Just back off, everyone!

  6. 6
    Barbara Says:

    The election was not about his medical condition. In Canada, you elect MPs and only indirectly the PM. It is different from the States. I believe he had every right to his privacy. It was clear to all that he was ailing and more so after the election. Any more information was unnecessary prying, in my opinion.

  7. 7
    Neil McKenty Says:

    So what are you saying, Barbara, that we should be concerned about the health of individual mps but a potential prime minister could be demented and still eligible to lead the country.

    As for Lady Janus claiming that the health of our leaders is of no interest to the general population – well that is just laughable.

  8. 8

    WHY is it so important to you, Neil?

    And laugh all you want. It’s still none of your business.

  9. 9
    Barbara Says:

    Demented and people wouldn’t notice? That’s a new concept. All I am saying is that, in Canada, one only indirectly votes for a PM. The health of the candidates for MP should be of interest. The PM is replaceable by the majority party in Parliament, if he chooses to resign or dies suddenly or cannot continue in office due to health — mental or otherwise.

    I agree with Lady Janus, the details of the leaders’ health is of no great concern save for the time when he/she becomes disabled and can no longer lead. Too much detail is unnecessary then, as well.

  10. 10
    jim Says:

    Janus – You sound like that other living fossil I once wrote about. Is your “Just back off, everyone!” uttered with a cackle or squelch. I know that your motto is “I don’t know, and I don’t want to know”.But surely in your right to say what you said, there must be a less abrasive way of getting your point across to your blog brother/sisterhood. How about watching some Jack Layton tapes.

    Regarding Jack’s illness, I believe we should have been made aware of it, if his doctors had advised him that his near future looked dim. However, I am not interested in the details after he died. It smells of nosy busybodies..
    I am reminded of the 20th century U.S. Presidents who had ailments on entering their elected office. In each case they surrounded themselves with staff who tried to keep it a secret.
    Jack Kennedy, who had a bad back, which seemed to hurt less when the ladies, who did not reside at the White House, performed the laying of the hands, sometimes even on his back. There was Franklin D. Roosevelt who had wobbly legs. And there was Nixon who was mentally retarded.

  11. 11

    I don’t believe there was a grand plan behind the NDP sweep of Quebec. We had a choice: Bloc or Liberals & voted neither.
    Layton’s have every right to maintain their privacy.
    Knowing what he died of, will change nothing.
    If he had actually been the PM, then the game rules change..
    Politics are always..if? if? if?

  12. 12

    The game rules don’t change even for the PM, Patti. There are some personal things about every citizen’s life that are not up for public consumption on demand, no matter who you are.

  13. 13
    Neil McKenty Says:

    I really cannot understand some of the rubbish being spouted on this matter.

    It is an absolute fact of political life that voters have the right to know about the mental and physical health of their leaders. To deny this would seem to constitute willfull ignorance.

  14. 14

    Not in Canada, Neil. There is no “right” to know any more about a politician’s health than he is willing to tell you.

  15. 15

    Jack Layton was very forth coming in talking about having cancer and falling, prior to the election. One look at him at the news conference…we all knew his time was short. By now most of have had some experience with cancer.
    One of his Doctors made a “slip” when he said something about treating his ‘tumors” with an S, Then, it was clear that it had metastacized. (sp?).
    I am pretty sure that some MP’s have medical conditions i.e.: alcoholism, and don’t step forward to confess it.
    I think that Olivia’s Chow’s reply was entirely acceptable. The kind of cancer is irrelevant.

  16. 16

    The Lady writes:

    Not in Canada, Neil. There is no “right” to know any more about a politician’s health than he is willing to tell you.

    Too true.

    But, then, I have the right not to vote for someone whom I perceive may not be healthy enough to represent me in Parliament and who is not forthcoming about their health.

  17. 17

    You do, indeed, Tony.

  18. 18
    Doris Says:

    I am Jack`s Mother — It is up to the DR`S to define his Cancer — Not for the media to make assumptions. It was a very complicated diagnosis

  19. 19
    Neil McKenty Says:

    Hi Doris,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. You must b e very proud of your son, such a distinguished Canadian.

  20. 20

    Hi Doris,
    My sincere condolences to you and your family.

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