Le bon Jack

Jack Layton
Jack Layton in 2008

This was news I wasn’t expecting.

In June 2011 I attended my first NDP Convention here in Vancouver, not really sure what I was getting into. I was handed a thick binder of resolutions, and without any contacts to mingle and network with, found an empty table off to one side of the convention floor and got to reading. There were resolutions I agreed with – on asbestos, public transportation, and indigenous rights. There were resolutions I disagreed with, particularly those on the HST. I looked forward to the opportunity to raise my voting card and make a difference. I did so at every opportunity, and it felt good! Despite the fact that I was almost always voting with the majority, this felt like real democracy in action. Some of the resolutions directly edited the NDP Constitution; I felt I had a hand in that.

Yet the highlight of the weekend was Jack Layton. I knew this was a man with charisma, I’d followed him since he took the party leadership in 2004, and I watched with pride as he out-dueled his opponents in the leadership debates. Yet nothing quite prepared me for seeing him in person. It’s true that his speech left a bit to be desired – the same themes of working for Canada’s families, getting down to work, etc. But his strength of character, and the way in which he galvanized the crowd was nothing short of electrifying. A great hall of people shouting and chanting Jack! Jack! Jack! The cynicism that I often feel over politics was washed aside in a wave of positivity – that’s what Jack Layton brought to the party.

During that same convention, I bore witness to some fundamental divides in the NDP. There was tension between the traditional unionists, and the more modern progressive youth of the party. The talk of even discussing a merger brought out vehement support from both sides (for the record, I voted to not rule out discussing a merger, why shut the door so fast?). Now that Jack is gone, it will be up to the party to stand together and not let such divisions weaken this embryonic 21st century NDP; an NDP with a chance for a successful future as Canada’s governing party.

I won’t in detail go into the shock and disappointment I felt when I read that Jack Layton passed away. Though in fact, the feeling was more of anger. This is what I posted on facebook that day:

I know the respectful thing is to mourn, but I’m angry that Jack Layton is gone. Angry. Life just isn’t fair sometimes. He deserved better, and Canada deserved better.

A person like him comes along rarely, and it was only in the last few months of his life that the people of Canada really started to realize what a man he was. Damn it all.

What more can I say? It was a privilege to see the man speak, and it was a privilege to have him make such an impact on our country. It is now up to the rest of us to carry on the work he began, and ensure that we stand up for our values.

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, feature photo courtesy of Tania Liu/Flickr)