Layton: The Contender

When the last federal election happened, it demanded more of my attention than any prior.  Neither a supporter of conservative politics nor their manifestation in the hands of the current government, I was anxious for political change.  Although, as I had for so many years ago, I voted NDP, I’d even have been happy with a Liberal win.  But when Quebec turned away from the PQ and found no other comfortable arms than those of the New Democrats, my heart began to pound and I watched the election results with nail-biting anxiety.  Was it possible?  Could the “also rans” become contenders?

Although I was bitterly disappointed at the Conservative win, I was buoyed by the number of seats earned by the NDP.  I hoped they would be able to live up to the  trust placed in them by the citizens of Quebec, and I thought if anyone had the chance of making good on an electoral fluke, it would be the affable and civil Mr. Layton.

And so, I grew “fond” of Mr. Layton.  Not Jack Layton the man, but the persona of the leader of the opposition.  I placed hope and confidence at his feet, and paid attention when his name was in the press.  In him were vested my hopes that this country could truly have a system of more than two parties.  In him were entrusted my ideals of social programming that might have a chance—not because I thought he had any magical power over Mr. Harper and would cow the bull, but because I thought his reasonableness might transform Canadian ears and allow them to re-consider the oft cited fear that New Democratic policies spell moral and economic doom.

With Mr. Layton’s death, I am moved.  Not because I loved Jack Layton.  Not because of the death of a man whom I have not even met, a man about whom I know nothing on a personal level.  And not because I think the death of this one man is significant.  We are all but motes drifting along the current of life. True: Some of us attract more free-floating particles and loom larger in space than others, but we are of the same stuff.   A man is dead.  But scores of men, and women, and their children died this week and last and will die tomorrow.

No, the emotion I feel about Jack Layton’s death is the selfish emotion of disappointment.  I’m not sure there is anyone in that party—nay, anyone in Canadian politics at the moment—with Mr. Layton’s vision, his work ethic, or his ability to sound reasonable while ringing out a socially responsible political platform.  And I’m sorry to my core that Canada has probably lost—for the foreseeable future—the chance of looking at the world through different eyes.

But lionizing Mr. Layton is not something I am prepared to do.  In a post-election article in the Globe and Mail, John Allemang talked of “the warm, fuzzy feelings” Canadians were expressing after the historic NDP showing—and Mr. Layton’s personal responsibility for that victory.  Mr. Allemang warned that those feelings would “come to nothing if [Mr. Layton couldn’t] quickly translate them into political effectiveness.”

Mr. Layton never had a chance.  He did not live long enough to show us his true political mettle.  And, in death, he doesn’t have to. He has been raised to the status of hero because he died young. Fought cancer courageously.  Many do.  Many have.  He has been raised to the status of hero for catching the seats the Liberals tossed away.

There is a lot of talk about a column written by the National Post’s Christy Blatchford.  Her observations that Mr. Layton was the quintessential politician to the end have earned her vile and, sometimes, incautious commentary.

Notwithstanding the difference in our political bents, there is, in my opinion, no disrespect in Ms. Blatchford’s having identified, in Mr. Layton, the very qualities that propelled him to the national stage.  He was a politician. That demanded some ego and some vision.  And he was a populist politician–and that demanded an ability to read the hearts of people and speak to them.

Mr. Layton embraced public life a very long time ago—and had he wanted or expected shelter from the public eye in death, he would not have penned or agreed to have released in his name —a letter which moved far beyond the personal, a letter designed to keep his—and his party’s—voice ringing in our ears for some time.

The vitriol that followed fast on the publication of Ms. Blatchford’s article is not in keeping with the tenor Mr. Layton espoused in his letter to the Canadian public. In the end, he was doing his job.  To the end.  Ms. Blatchford was also doing her job.  And part of the job of a journalist is to say it first.  Even if it hurts.

To Mr. Layton’s family, I offer my sincere condolences—for whatever they might be worth from a stranger.  I have watched my mother lose two husbands.  I have lost my father.  I have lost a sister.  I know the pain that comes of the death of someone close.  And I don’t envy you the public eye which will scrutinize your every grieving step.

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Published in: on August 23, 2011 at 8:36 pm  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Well said.

    Mr. Layton’s reputation will benefit from the usual tendency of the public to remember only the positive accomplishments and the suddenly recognized unrealized potential of their fallen heroes. Those that dare to do anything but echo the popular viewpoint become targets. This is especially true for journalists.

    On a related topic, it’s unfortunate that the Prime Minister has chosen to make political hay by holding an unprecedented state funeral for Mr Layton. I find it impossible to think that this is anything but an attempt to ingratiate himself with those formerly Conservative voters in Quebec that used the last election to voice their displeasure with his government. Where do they turn now?

    • You may well be right about the PM’s desire to curry the Quebec vote specifically. I had thought of it in terms of his not wanting to pull a Queen Elizabeth and be out of step with the sentiments of the public generally. I imagine a lot of people are wondering where to turn now. That’s a lot of faith to put in one man – and I’m certainly guilty of that.

  2. Thank you Diane. I found the reaction to Christie Blatchford’s column to be nothing short of hysterical….and I don’t mean funny. I read it 3 times to try and find what was getting people so upset and couldn’t. I didn’t find it disrespectful, but rather a thoughtful commentary from someone with a different point of view. Some point to the timing (the day of his death) but I still don’t think that justifies the hateful response she has received. Jack Layton lived a very public life, which means there will be very public responses to him in life and death.

    • Thanks for your comment, Candace. I’ve received some support for this blog on Twitter, but wonder if people are generally reluctant to jump into the fray here – for fear of inviting the kind of invective some of the National Post’s writers have received.


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