Jack Layton, leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party and of the Loyal Opposition, passed away earlier this morning at the age of 61 after a long battle with cancer. He will be missed.
Once there was a time when you wouldn’t catch me voting for an NDP candidate. I consider myself a “radical centrist”, I graduated with a real degree and work for a living after all ;). That being said, I’ve always been fond of Jack Layton and his political work in both municipal and federal spheres. I’ve even seen some die-hard Conservative voters say this of Jack: “Right guy, wrong party,” a great indicator of the esteem in which he is held across the the political spectrum as well as across the party.
I did vote NDP in the last election (that’s my ballot in the photo above; I took the photo on the sly), in spite of the temptation to give a “pity vote” to the Radical Marijuana Party and the always-unintentionally-hilarious local rep Terry “Huh?” Parker. A lot of the credit goes to Mr. Layton himself: his voting record is most in line with my thinking, his local representative Peggy Nash work hard for my riding (High Park) and in my opinion, he did the best at the debates. He was certainly the only candidate I liked.
Layton’s performance at the debates is said to have led to the NDP’s surge in the federal election earlier this year. For those of you not familiar with Canadian Politics, the NDP have long been Canada’s “third party”. Not this time: in the second half of the campaign, the NDP’s popularity grew to the point where they were in the number two position behind the Conservatives across most of Canada; in Quebec, they’d unseated the Bloc Quebecois as the number one choice.
I want you to consider this for a moment. In beating the Bloc, he did what no other politician has done: he effectively nullified the question of Quebec’s separation. From a near-miss referendum in 1995 to a non-issue in 2011? That’s damned impressive.
This rally led both the Conservatives and Liberals to target the NDP in the final days of their campaigns, an acknowledgment of the party’s newfound clout. The NDP won the second-most seats in Canada after the Conservatives, making them the Party of the Loyal Opposition for the first time. I remember thinking that a Conservative majority with the NDP as its official foil was the best of the possible outcomes: the Tin Man and his heart.
Every politician talks about “the little guy” or “everyday people like you and me”, but most seem to view it as a sort of abstract thing, the way you or I might talk about being an astronaut or Navy SEAL — we have a vague idea of what it’s like, and it’s probably been distorted by the movies and we’ve never done and will likely never do that sort of thing. Jack’s willingness to go door-to-door and talk to you no matter who you were, appear at the most rag-tag of events and even to invite a local accordion player to play an opening number at one of his speeches solely on the recommendation of a friend (alas, I was out of town) suggested that he truly got it.
The sky looks appropriately somber as I write this in Vancouver. I fly back to Ottawa this afternoon Pacific Time, where I live just falling distance from Parliament Hill. I suspect that things will be a little more muted and somber over the next couple of days, owing to the respect the man had from all sides.
I hold out hope that this made-up headline has at least a little truth in it: “Jack Layton steps down from NDP leadership to take some time “to sit down with this God fellow and talk about how we might improve things for the average man.”
Requiescat in pace, Jack.