Like many, I was sad to learn of Jack Layton’s passing last month.

In the days and weeks following his death, it became clear that the legacy of his life was more powerful than the cancer he struggled with in recent months.  His unwavering optimism, commitment to social equality and lifelong dedication to public service will be remembered by many for years to come.  His premature passing serves as a reminder that our time on this earth is short and that we must use each and every day to its utmost.

While we sat on opposite sides of the House of Commons, we were also colleagues. Both of us were first elected to Parliament in the 2004 federal election. During the last seven years, I watched as he worked tirelessly for his party and for the ideals he believed in.  His hard work paid off last May when, for the first time in Canadian history, he led the NDP to Official Opposition status.

When the new 41st Parliament started in June, he established a new tone of civility in the House.  As the new Leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition, he was genuinely committed to promoting decorum in the House, not only out of respect for his fellow Parliamentarians, but also with the hope of renewing Canadians’ faith in Parliament.

Perhaps his greatest legacy will be the historic breakthrough in Quebec that saw the election of 59 new NDP members and the defeat of the separatist Bloc Québécois.

There are several fond memories I have of him over the years. We often saw each other at the gym in Ottawa, where his steadfast penchant for physical activity kept him coming back even during his cancer treatment.

Our last encounter took place in late June in the House of Commons during the debate on restoring Canada Post’s mail service.  I asked him a question and he answered. Little did I know that it would be the last time we would see each other.  Regardless of our differences over policy, he continuously demonstrated his commitment to his convictions and to building the party he so believed in.

Although each one of us wears a different political stripe, as members of Parliament we are all united by our hopes and efforts to make Canada a better place.  The optimism and dedication that comes with serving the public is something that crosses party lines.

I will remember Jack for his optimism, for his dedication to his convictions, but most of all, I will remember him for how he convinced Canadians in Quebec to turn away from the separatist Bloc Québécois and toward a federalist alternative.