Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Jack Layton

I seem to get all my bad news in coffee shops lately. I was having breakfast at a coffee shop last Monday when my wife texted me to tell me that Jack Layton had died.

I have supported the NDP all my life. In my income bracket, the Conservatives would be far better for me; I am a corporation, lowering taxes is what they are all about. ( I might even create some jobs with the extra money, that's what corporations do with their money from tax cuts ;Q.) I periodically get involved, mostly I just donate and show up to futilely cast a vote (my Cons member routinely gets 60%)

The past 20 year have not been good to the NDP. They were reduced to a small rump in the House of Commons, and have lost some of the provincial governments that they had. Most of Canada's is now governed by governments more right wing than we would have ever thought possible 20 years ago. Federal and provincial governments in the past 20 years have rolled back many progressive changes that took most of the 20th century to accomplish.

The NDP has always picked polite, well meaning, non-charismatic intellectuals as their leaders. They have run nice polite campaigns while the other two parties kicked sand in their face. They have won lots of moral but very few actual victories.

Jack Layton was different. He was a politician. Yes, a politician. Someone who fought back, who played by the same rules as the other parties. Some people didn't like that. After all the NDP is supposed to been polite and principled. (These were usually the same people who said in the past that they couldn't vote NDP because they didn't have a strong leader). And sure he made claims we knew weren't possible. Like for example he talked about hiring new family doctors. Like, where was he expecting to find them (in the medicentres and cosmetic clinics?). But he brought back a new respect for politicians and what they could accomplish. Many people support all or a large part of the progressive agenda. It's just that the salesmen and women have not been very good at it. Until Jack Layton.

But he made politics interesting and the last five years have been an exciting time for progressives. I remember the coalition a few years ago, when it looked like for the first time Canada was actually going to overthrow a government. Too bad Iggy screwed that one up. But Jack got him back when he skewered him about his attendence in the House of Commons in the debate. And in that debate it was fascinating watching Harper looking at Jack with a mixture of hatred and fear. And of the excitement of the Orange Wave this year and the possibility on the last weekend with the Liberal vote collapsing that Jack and the NDP just might win. And on election night the sight of him on stage waving his cane in the air.

But what I like about Jack was that he always seemed to be having fun. Like the picture, how many times have you seen a politician hoisting a beer (too bad about the Habs sweater). Other politicians go through their photo ops but they don't look like they are having any fun.

But one thing that nobody ever points out is that Jack with his popularity as a municipal politician and his pedigree (which unfortunately seems to be important in Canadian politics) could have run for the Liberals in the 1990s, been given a safe seat, a Cabinet position and we just might now be having a state funeral for a sitting Prime Minister, not the Leader of the Opposition. Who would have blamed him, so many other progressive politicians have sold out (run for the Liberal party). Instead he threw his lot in with a party that had been reduced to 11 members and took three tries just to win a seat. That is committment to principle.

I did meet Jack once at barbecue put on by the party. My wife told me I should go and talk to him so I did but overwhelmed by his aura I was tongue tied and didn't get much beyond introducing myself and saying how nice it was to finally meet him. He was polite and smiled. I wish we (I) could have talked more.

From the grave Jack sent this letter to Canadians which he composed two days before his death. What impressed my wife and I was his advice to Canadians on how we can all try to be better. What an inspiration.

My wife and I attended a candle-light service for him last night. A few thousand people came out and we had speaches from politicians. As we left a choir sang the Canadian version of "This Land is Your Land" . We used to sing this song in elementary school. It is too bad many of my generation never thought about what it means.

Jack said:

"Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world."

Joe Hill said, "Don't mourn, organize". Maybe I should get off my ass.

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