Monday, August 22, 2011

So long, Jack

I campaigned for Canada's New Democratic Party (NDP) as a teenager, in the riding then held by Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Our big breakthrough was getting slightly more than 2% of the vote.

Over the years, my political orientation shifted to the right, but I always had a special place in my heart for the party whose members once sported buttons that said "My heart is on the left." Earlier this year, I even voted for them for the first time in 27 years, and I did so primarily because of the party's charismatic leader, Jack Layton. Hell, I didn't even know the name of the local candidate until I saw it on the ballot, and promptly forgot it until she was declared elected.

Jack Layton accomplished two things in that election that nobody expected. The party that had been struggling for a breakthrough in Quebec for decades took 59 of 75 parliamentary seats in the province, sending the separatist Bloc Quebecois, which had dominated federal politics in Quebec for two decades, to oblivion.

Largely because of that accomplishment, the NDP became the Official Opposition for the first time in its history. The future was brighter than it had ever been for the NDP and the man who had become the most popular politician in Canada.

Then, earlier this summer, he confidently told Canadians that he would be back when he stepped down from the party's leadership to battle cancer (which he had beaten once before), and few doubted that he would be.

Jack Layton died this morning.

As far as I can see, Jack may have been the last of his kind in Canadian politics; that is, leaders who are in it not for the money or the prestige or the favours they can hand out, but for what they believe in and the hope of achieving a brighter future. In my lifetime, I can think of only three others who merit membership in this club: Pierre Trudeau, Rene Levesque, and the NDP's own Ed Broadbent.

Today, my condolences go out not only to Jack's family and friends, but to all Canadians - regardless of our political leanings, we have all lost a national treasure today.

So long, Jack. We will miss you.

Two days before his death, Jack Layton wrote this letter to Canadians.