Monday, August 22, 2011

Jack Layton (1950-2011)

By Michael J.W. Stickings 

To my friend Richard, and to Marilyn, and to everyone who was touched so deeply by this great man.

I am a Canadian. I live and work in Canada. I love this country.

But for a variety of reasons both personal and professional I do not blog about Canada, or specifically about Canadian politics. It's just the way it has to be.

But I cannot let this day go by without recognizing the passing of a great Canadian politician, a great Canadian, period.

Jack Layton, the leader of our federal New Democratic Party (NDP), our left-wing social democratic party and since May the official opposition in Ottawa, died today at the age of 61. We are in mourning.

It is a great loss -- no matter your politics.

I will only say, without revealing too much, that I greatly admired the man and his policies, what he and his party stood for -- for community and social justice, for the downtrodden and disadvantaged, for a greater Canada, more fair and more just for all -- even if my political loyalties have often been elsewhere.

As the Globe editorialized, speaking for so many of us:

Jack Layton was a politician in the best sense, but that was not the only reason there was palpable sadness all across this country when he died on Monday. Why did he touch Canadians so deeply? Because the spirit that animated him throughout his three decades in politics was suddenly manifest, humbly, without egotism, yet in a way that was clear to all, as he fought cancer and a fractured hip while leading his political party to the most stunning success in its history.


[T]ake his last news conference, not quite a month ago. Gaunt and seeming, with shocking suddenness, to be near his end, he spoke optimistically of returning in the fall to continue leading his party. That optimism was Jack. The personal was political. His optimism was the foundation of the New Democratic Party's success in Quebec, where it was never given a chance until Mr. Layton, who had grown up in Quebec, insisted it had one, even though it had never won more than a single seat there.

Or take his letter to Canadians, dated two days before his death, in which he reached out to others who are fighting cancer: "Please don't be discouraged that my own journey hasn't gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope." Even when his own hope was gone, he pleaded for the necessity of hope in others. "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair." Few politicians anywhere have left public life on such a note of grace.

Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair.

How do you not read that and be filled not just with sadness, the sadness of loss, but also with joy, the joy, so uncommon in our public life, of being lifted to a better place, the joy that comes from the awareness that such noble sentiments are not so much the stuff of impossible idealism but can actually be the driving force behind a successful political life, can actually make an impact in our public life, can actually be made real in the work of a man like Jack Layton?

He wrote -- to Canadians -- and to the world -- and I hope you all read his wonderful letter:

Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world...

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

In many ways, Layton embodied what is great about this country -- and what is yet possible, of what may yet come if only we set our minds to loftier goals.

Not everyone liked what he stood for, of course, but if nothing else what he stood for, and what remains now, even after his passing, deserves our respect, across the spectrum.

There will continue to be serious disagreements about means, of course, but the ends, the goals, should be for us all.

Canada is a better place for Jack Layton. But we have lost something special with his death. Let us move forward with his memory in mind.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share


  • Thank you so much for this, Michael. Sadly, Jack had enemies in the Conservative ranks that would, even as he has been barely laid to rest, who would continue to attack him personally and those of his party. I speak of Conservative talk show host Charles Adler who called Jack "Moses..waving his cane like a staff." Who mocked the words of Stephen Lewis at the state funeral. Who state; "Canadian taxpayers spent millions of dollars on a funeral party turned into an infomercial."
    So thanks again, Michael for your kind words about a great Canadian.

    By Blogger lovehopeoptimism, at 10:40 AM  

  • Thank you for this, Michael. We have indeed lost a great Canadian. It is sad, however, that others such as Charles Adler feel it necessary to publicly rebuke Mr. Layton on air and in print.

    This disrespectful, mordant rant about a political figure who has just passed away after a great success in the political arena says much about him as a person and much about his politics. Shame on you Mr. Adler. (Although, I am sure my shaming him will just roll off his back like the proverbial water of a duck.

    Thank you again, Michael for your sensitivity and respect for this caring, and loyal Canadian.

    By Blogger lovehopeoptimism, at 10:52 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home