It is often at the point of a person’s death that his merits are finally truly and fully appreciated, and so it is with the passing of Jack Layton, leader of the federal New Democratic Party (NDP) and Leader of Canada’s Official Opposition. Often described as energetic, inspiring and that rare politician with a distinctly human touch, Layton’s passing on Monday at age 61 from yet another battle with cancer, came a year after surviving prostate cancer and hip surgery.
Amazingly, amid questions about his health, Layton went with full force into an election campaign this spring that moved the federal NDP to 103 seats, the highest number of seats in the history of the party. Yet, there is no question that the campaign took its toll. Layton, in effect, gave his life to it.
The success of that campaign that saw the NDP gain more seats percentagewise than the Conservatives who now govern has largely been attributed to Layton’s infectious optimism. But after almost 20 years on Toronto City Council before entering federal politics, Layton’s well-honed political skills and ability to reach across partisan lines to get things done were no doubt also part of the formula for the NDP’s current seat count in the House of Commons. He had learned how to function effectively as he rose through the ranks from Toronto City Councillor to leader of the federal NDP. He learned how to negotiate with all sides and at the same time kept his vision for where he wanted the NDP to go and for social democracy in Canada. He did it with respect and without rancour.
We wish that were the standard for all our politicians.
That the NDP under Layton managed to become the Opposition with a surge in wins in Quebec also speaks to the character of a politician who many felt was the most trusted of all party leaders among his contemporaries. Some of his colleagues may not have agreed with Layton’s policy proposals but they all had high regard for him.
Layton was a voice for the poor and working class. He took a strong stand on issues that would otherwise have been absent from the discourse in federal politics, issues such as housing, homelessness, improving seniors’ public pensions and protecting the environment. And while other politicians used the military action in Afghanistan as an opportunity to wrap themselves in the Canadian flag, Layton called for Canadian troops there to be brought home.
He may not have been well known outside of Toronto when he took over as federal NDP leader in 2003, but today all of Canada feels the loss of his energy and his dedication to this country. His was an earnest and tireless voice for the everyday Canadian, Canadian politics and the NDP. In his final days Layton wrote a message to NDP party members, to others facing cancer, to young Canadians, to Quebecers and to all of Canada. It shows that even to the end Layton was thinking beyond himself.
Beyond his clear concern for the continued success of his party, Layton’s message ends with words that speak of his real essence and vision. He wrote: “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.”
Along with the thousands of messages of condolences that have come from all quarters, including from those who opposed him in politics, we at Share also extend our condolences to his widow, Olivia Chow and the rest of the Layton family for their loss.
Jack Layton is to be accorded a state funeral to be held here in Toronto on Saturday.
A condolence book is available in the City Hall rotunda for people to express their sympathy in memory of Jack Layton. A second condolence book is at the East York Civic Centre.
May his soul rest in peace!