New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jack Layton speaks at a news conference in Toronto in July. (© Mark Blinch / Reuters/REUTERS)

The New Democrat party issued a statement Monday morning that said Layton had died peacefully at 4:45 a.m. ET today at his Toronto home, surrounded by family and loved ones.

A gaunt Layton had held a news conference just weeks ago to announce he was fighting a second bout of cancer.

In February, Layton announced his first bout with cancer, which attacked his prostate, but doctors soon said he was recovering. Layton also underwent a hip surgery that he said was unrelated to his cancer, and carried a cane throughout.

Despite his poor health, Layton had become increasingly healthy and energized during the May federal election. “The cane he used to support himself became a lightning rod as the party’s support grew and grew,” writes the Globe and Mail.

The election ended with the New Democrats winning official opposition status for the first time in its 50-year history, gaining 103 seats, up from a previous 37.

The gains were attributed in large part to “Layton’s folksy, upbeat message.” Layton had been nicknamed “Smiling Jack.” The man was at the height of his political career.

Layton was the son of a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister and the grandson of a prominent provincial politician in Quebec, but he had made his own name as a politician who worked tirelessly for the poor and homeless.

Layton’s wife and two children survive him.

Tributes came in on Twitter from Canadian politicians:

Deeply saddened by today’s news. Our thoughts are with Jack Layton’s family today. He will be remembered for his dedication to Canadians.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet ReplyJohn McCallum

Deeply saddened by news about Jack Layton, Arlene and I send deepest condolences to Olivia and family. He is a loss to a grieving Canadaless than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry® Favorite Retweet ReplyBob Rae

More tributes came in from journalists, musicians, and those who worked for him:

What sad, sad news. Jack Layton was a good man, with a twinkle in his eye ‘til we last saw him. He cared deeply for Canada and its people.less than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry® Favorite Retweet ReplySeamus O’Regan

A sad day, both for Canada and for those of us on the Left: Jack Layton, leader of the NDP has passed away than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet ReplyBilly Bragg

I am very fortunate to be able to count myself among those who have worked with Jack Layton. Today and tomorrow we will continue to build.less than a minute ago via Echofon Favorite Retweet ReplyColin Guillas