Monday, August 22, 2011

Jack Layton 1950 - 2011

(taken from the NDP website)

I got to see him only once, and that from a distance. My friend Greg got me into the House of Commons Question Period and gave me a prime vantage spot from which to watch the goings-on.

That afternoon the Conservatives were sluggish. The Prime Minister was not in attendance. I remember dimly that Jason Kenney and a few others made speeches, ponderously reading from pages and pages of white 8 1/2 x 11" paper, awkwardly throwing in a few words en francais to show that they were indeed capable of governing la toute Canada. The Liberals were scattered, sheep without a shepherd - he too was absent that day. The Bloc yelled and pounded more than anyone else, it seemed.

Finally it came time for the NDP to speak. And Jack Layton, leader of the party although not yet of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, rose from his seat with his trademark smile flashing across his face.

No notes. No hesitation. Fully bilingual. He spoke quickly and far longer than anyone else that day, passionately, convincingly, by turns battering and beguiling. He addressed the issue of the day. He spoke of his vision for his country.

I thought he was way off base, thought that maybe he was bargaining Canada's soul away. I couldn't fathom why such a highly intelligent man could be so blinded to the economic realities of the country. But I left that session pondering more deeply than I had in a long while my own dearly held beliefs and stances. While I didn't necessarily agree with him on everything, he caused me to think more carefully. He showed me that people all across the political spectrum love this country as much as I do and that everyone should be given a voice. I will always be grateful to him for that.

He elicited a number of boos that afternoon, but managed to squeeze out some chuckles throughout the room and even a little reluctant applause from those who were diametrically opposed to his policies.

And before he sat down he smiled one last time and said a few words, in both official languages, reminding everyone that we all wanted what was best for Canada; in this room it was politics as usual but we had to work together to improve everyone's lot in the country that we all loved.

Orange has never been my colour. Orange will never be my colour. But in those moments I wished desperately to be able to wear orange (or, more accurately, I wished that Jack could wear another colour!), wished to be able to back someone who was the consummate showman, the unparalleled politician, in the room that day. The person who seemed to want to bring Canadians together.

I followed our latest election with great interest. It was Jack's Party, all right, that won status as the Official Opposition. It was Jack on the the posters, Jack on the radio and TV ads. He never seemed to stoop quite as low as some of the others in attack ads. Even his needling of Ignatieff as to the latter's spotty attendance record in Parliament was delivered with humour, as had been his comments to sweaterman Stephen Harper some years earlier.

He knew how to win the affections of thousands of people who would never vote for him; in this last election he proved that he also was becoming adept at winning some of their votes.

Jack passed away this morning after a valiant battle with cancer. He died as he lived, caring for this country. The last words he wrote in an open letter to his party and to the people of Canada are these:

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.

All my very best,

Jack Layton


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