08/28/2011 04:00 EDT | Updated 10/27/2011 05:12 EDT

Layton already reaching 'beyond the grave,' former NDP leader McDonough says

TORONTO - Jack Layton's ability to connect with Quebecers and tap into their social-democratic sentiments were key to his success, and will be key to any future success of those who come after him, one of his predecessors said Saturday.

At the same time, former NDP leader Alexa McDonough said, people are already picking up where Layton left off in terms of his nation building.

"He had spent his entire adult life influencing people to take up the social democratic cause," McDonough said in an interview.

"You can already see that he's reached beyond the grave in terms of challenging people to carry on."

McDonough said Layton managed to tap into something that none of his predecessors, herself included, were able to do.

Part of that success, she said, was Layton's "cachet" at having been born in Quebec and his ability to speak French fluently.

But there was something even more important to his ability to connect with Quebecers in their own language.

"He also understood at a really deep level that Quebecers were, at the very core social democrats," McDonough said.

"So there needed to be a marriage there take place between the social democratic sentiments of Quebecers and the social democratic sentiments of the rest of Canada."

Ultimately, she said, it was Layton's "love and affection" for Quebec and his ability to share that feeling with the larger Canadian family that really resonated with all Canadians and propelled the party to Official Opposition status in the May election for the first time, she said.

During his eulogy at Layton's state funeral Saturday, former Ontario NDP leader and longtime activist Stephen Lewis suggested Canada was on a new course politically — one in line with Layton's thinking.

"He wanted in the simplest and most visceral terms a more generous Canada,'' Lewis said.

"We're slowly being steadied by a new resolve ... a resolve to honour Jack by bringing the politics of respect for all, respect for the Earth and respect for principle and generosity back to life.''

Still, McDonough said, whether the New Democrats could find another leader to continue its recent successes without Layton remained to be seen.

"What the party can do from here on in, we'll see unfold," McDonough said.

"(But) the challenge that he has put to people to carry on that dream and continue with that work has already been taken up with a vengeance. You can see it all over the country."