The NDP's surge to Opposition status can be attributed solely to the charisma of Jack Layton, who died from cancer this morning at the age of 61. The NDP made modest gains in the rest of Canada, but it is Quebec that turned the perennial 4th Party in Parliament into the Official Opposition.
The ineffectiveness of Gilles Duceppe's Bloc Quebecois, Layton's character and his Quebec roots, and socialist policies similar to the Bloc's all contributed to the NDP's unprecedented gains in Canada's French-speaking province. But of those factors, Layton's leadership was undoubtedly foremost.
The NDP gain was a double-edged sword for the party. It came with the cost of a Conservative majority, which ironically left the socialist party with less power despite its vast increase in seats. It also cost the NDP in that the increased scrutiny that came with being Opposition highlighted the incompetence and stupidity of so many of its caucus members.
With its perpetually smiling, vacuous interim leader Nicole Turmel a mere stopgap, the knives will soon emerge as a fight to replace Layton likely will occur very soon. The leaders of the NDP range from the responsible yet uncharismatic, like Tom Mulcair and Paul Dewar to the inept and the crazy, like its Deputy Leader Libby Davies, known for promoting 9-11 conspiracy theories and association with anti-Semites.
Layton was able to dominate and bind his disparate group through his distinct personality, but none of the contenders for the NDP crown have a shred of Layton's leadership or character. Over the next few days, the condolences and tributes to Layton will pour in. In the weeks after, the Liberals and what's left of the Bloc, as well as the governing Conservatives are all aware of the vacuum created by Layton's death, and will attempt to exploit the abyss at the top of the NDP.
If there is any silver lining for the NDP in the loss of its leading light, it is that it came very early in the electoral cycle, which will give them an opportunity to try to rebuild behind a new leader.
They may wish that was not the case. Four years of bungling and stupidity from that caucus will probably lead to another Tory government and the resurgence of the Liberal party after the next national election.
UPDATE: Recognizing his end was near, Layton wrote a letter two days before his death, which he wanted to be made public afterwards. Among other things, it states his wish that an NDP leadership convention should be held early in 2012.