The unthinkable happened twice this year for the federal New Democrats: their charismatic leader Jack Layton took them as close to the Holy Grail of Canadian politics as you can get as a ‘third party’ in doubling their historic seat count to form the official opposition. And then, as the euphoria proved short-lived, the NDP have been left leaderless just months after their momentous achievement.
In losing his battle with a second cancer and passing away at just 61 years of age, NDP icon Jack Layton has left his party with many pressing questions, and Canada’s left-wing without its brightest light.
It has been strange to read of Jack’s passing while on vacation, and I am even hesitant to say something now from the lobby of our hotel, surrounded by laughing tourists. But when a Canadian political leader of Jack’s stature (that you had to love even if you could never bring yourself to vote for him, or even if you could not get past his used car salesman veneer) passes away so suddenly, it is worth a few words.
My largest hope for Jack and the NDP would be that Jack could create a party that could continue to win in his absence; to gain ground against the Conservatives across the country as an opposition that, for better or worse, knew what they stood for; and to rally people to the belief that you can encourage more citizens to become involved in the process by promising them hope, rather than threatening them with fear and gloom.
I had hoped that Jack would have had more time to work with his young crop of politicians to help mould them into the next generation of NDP leaders. I had hoped that his long fought for opportunity to help govern from the opposition benches would be as productive as possible: and in the absence of a strong Liberal Party, that the NDP could have flourished as a viable alternative to those who oppose Stephen Harper and his dour conservative message for Canada.
Harper’s is not a future I want for Canada: and it was not the future Jack Layton wanted for Canada either.
And say what you will about his politicking in his final letter to Canada, but give a dying man his due – I’m looking at you, Christie Blatchford. His message of hope and the possibility of change rings true in stark contrast to the world of turmoil that many espouse.
Surely he must have known that as his health was failing him that the people who would be forced to step and lead in his absence would need all the help they could get. These are indeed big shoes to fill. If the NDP were too dependent an Jack as I had argued previously they were, the time for guessing is past. Too dependent or not, Jack has set the NDP in motion for the 21st Century. It is up to those he leaves behind to preserve the gains he fought so hard, and ultimately gave his all, to achieve,
Thanks for the memories, Jack. Our political landscape is poorer for the loss.