No shame in mourning Layton’s death


Because of the degree of public reaction to the death of federal New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jack Layton there definitely was an air of spectacle. One effect of pervasive communication media that is now woven into our daily lives is that by sheer power of repetition, any noteworthy event becomes magnified. Text messages and tweets on mobile phones, online and televised news reports and so on, all play their part.

Some may find the volume overwhelming.

We are no longer in the 20th Century; we are more than a decade into the 21st. Yet many of us have a hard time adjusting to this new normal. We all get the same information at virtually the same time, and are all witness to the effect.

Nevertheless, that should not be conflated with the genuine feelings that we witness from those saddened by the loss of Layton, a man who managed to achieve what so many hope to – contributing something of value to his fellow human beings and to the planet. Who doesn’t want to leave the world a better place for having been here? Because so many of us perceived that Layton was active in this endeavour, while in the process having displayed a rare humanity as a politician, the loss – following his astonishingly frail image just weeks before when he stepped down as Opposition Leader to seek treatment for cancer – hit many with impact.

That is why it was such a pity to read the snide commentary that showed up as National Post columnist Christie Blatchford’s reaction to people mourning Layton’s passing. Not to be outdone, on the very day of the state funeral for the late Leader of the Official Opposition, the Toronto Sun, like the National Post, both unabashed supporters of right-wing politics, felt it necessary to remind us in an editorial that Layton was a “politician, not a saint”.

I must have missed the many people seeking to sanctify the man everyone knew as Jack. Instead, what I heard was that he was a committed politician who gave everyone his ear and was a person who had the gift of making individuals with whom he came in contact feel validated.

Layton worked to get bike lanes laid down in this city, was a force in initiating the White Ribbon campaign to bring attention to violence against women and took strong stands in support of people with HIV/AIDS and the problem of homelessness, among other social concerns that matter greatly to many Canadians.

The NDP is commonly considered a party that represents the concerns of ordinary, everyday Canadians as well as being a draw among youth and minorities. So to dismiss the sadness many felt at Layton’s death by throwing shame at them for their genuine feelings was distasteful.

If even Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper saw fit to extend the offer of a state funeral to Layton’s grieving family (and to attend the funeral himself) those who would rather make less of the man at the time of his death need to take a sober second look at their blinkered political bias. The reason people reacted so strongly to the loss is that there are too few politicians that represent an obvious awareness of what really matters to ordinary people and who will verbalize those issues and concerns in such a direct and efficient manner as Layton did. People felt that he was speaking for them, not to them. That’s why the CN Tower and Niagara Falls were lit in orange. As a politician and as a person he said what people want to hear from politicians.

The anti-Layton position by these newspapers was ill-timed, crass and showed poor judgment and, in effect, was the antithesis of what Layton has come to represent to so many Canadians.

A note on your public employees at work…

On a downtown side street, a letter carrier waves frantically to a parking enforcement officer. He draws to her attention that she has just ticketed an unmarked police car – unmarked, but visibly carrying all the usual interior trappings of a police car. But it was in a spot that for any other type of vehicle would have meant it was illegally parked. So, sometimes the law has to be broken by those appointed to uphold it in order to maintain it, no? Yet her action does raise questions. Was the officer’s ticketing just an oversight? Or was she trying to send a message?

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