07/27/2011 12:51 EDT | Updated 09/26/2011 05:12 EDT

Nycole Turmel Backed By NDP Caucus As Interim Leader While Jack Layton Fights New Cancer

CP File

THE CANADIAN PRESS — OTTAWA - New Democrat MPs have unanimously backed rookie Quebec MP Nycole Turmel as interim leader.

The caucus has wrapped up a special caucus meeting to consider Turmel as a temporary replacement for ailing leader Jack Layton.

"We have overwhelming, unanimous support for the recommendation that Nycole Turmel be our interim leader," said Libby Davies, Layton's deputy.

Layton recommended Turmel for the post on Monday, when he announced he would take a leave of absence while undergoing another round of cancer therapy.

Turmel, a former national union leader who is already chair of the caucus, thanked her fellow MPs for their support, but declined to answer questions until her position is confirmed by the party's national council.

Davies acknowledged that the NDP faces a difficult situation with its best-known figure offstage, but she denied the party will be adrift without Layton.

"First of all, there is great strength in the caucus, there is a great sense of solidarity, there's tremendous experience," she said

The popular Layton has long polled ahead of his party in public support and New Democrats rode his personal appeal to a historic breakthrough on May 2, capturing 103 seats and official Opposition status.

In Quebec in particular, voters swung massively to the NDP largely because of Layton, not his party, his policies or his candidates. Indeed, some of the 59 New Democrats elected in Quebec were complete unknowns in their ridings, in some cases never having even visited the regions they now represent.

Thomas Mulcair, the party's Quebec lieutenant, said the NDP will carry on.

"The road that we've travelled is a good one and we're going to continue with Nycole with the same energy, the same fire on our belly, the same enthusiasm," he said.

The caucus decision must still be ratified by the national council, which is to meet tomorrow.