Death Of A Statesman: Thoughts On Jack Layton.
My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.
-Jack Layton, In his last letter to Canadians.
Yesterday morning Canada lost a great voice for social justice.
Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, died surrounded by friends and family- not of the prostate cancer he very publicly battled over the past few years- but of a new cancer that he was diagnosed with just one month ago.
Jack’s legacy can not be overstated. His tireless work during his 30 years in public office of fighting for the poor and homeless- first as a Toronto City Councillor and later as an MP and Leader of the NDP harken back to the days when politicians were guided into politics out of principled idealism to make Canada better for Canadians. In an age where politicians seem to care about staying the course, Jack asked us to abandon the well worn trail and search together for a better path. He sought public office not just to win but to be a voice for those most affected by policies and most disaffected by politics.
Jack laboured his entire career for those who needed a voice the most. He was an advocate for Aboriginal issues, and helped craft the Government letter of apology for the horrors of residential schools. He was instrumental in starting the White Ribbon Campaign in response to the Montreal Massacre in 1991- raising awareness of violence against women. He offered up his home as equity to keep the campaign running, and its first headquarters was the bedroom of Jack’s son, Micheal, now a Toronto city Councillor himself. He was instrumental in putting Toronto at the forefront of AIDS activism, becoming one of the greatest political champions of the issue. He lobbied Council for a Gay and Lesbian Pride Day in Toronto as early as 1989. His advocacy in Parliament of Same-sex Marriage is no doubt the reason Canadians today can boast of our strides in social equity.
In Toronto, Jack fought and won the battle to make the city one of the most accessible in North America for cyclists. His commitment to the simple ways we can help the environment will have a lasting impact in Toronto in particular and Canada as a whole. He was one of the architects behind the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, which diverted monies from the sale of City land toward green initiatives. His legacy includes wind power initiatives in Toronto, and Enwave, an environmentally sustainable energy company half owned by the City of Toronto- a company that uses Deep Lake Water Cooling to air condition highrises in the city center.
I think that, in politics as in life, we need to be guided by an ideal and govern in reality.
Perhaps the most important thing Jack did was show Canadians that we could be a community of equals, people who work together and for each other; that we could be a country proud of how we treat each other- that social justice and equity were not Utopian pipe dreams, but responsible and attainable goals. He convinced enough of us that we could do good to make his party the official opposition in the last election. He did this with a party that was, when he took the helm in 2003, a marginalized socialist labour party that was a perennial also-ran in the Federal landscape. Who knows what he could have accomplished if his life were not cut short.
The last week or two, I had been mulling over writing a post about what I want to see in my political leaders in response to some of the talk with Americans about the upcoming 2012 elections. I think if I had have thought long and hard about it, I would have told them to look up Jack Layton. I think that, in politics as in life, we need to be guided by an ideal and govern in reality. Jack did this better than anyone, and he made both look possible. There is always an ideal- a society that exemplifies all those things that are best in humanity- but the real world doesn’t always make it simple or practical to get there. When you look back at a career that spans almost my entire lifetime, Jack never sacrificed his vision- he never lost sight of Shangri-La. He was always moving in the direction of Better- always inching toward the best city- the best Country- he could give his fellow Canadians. Yes, there were realities. Yes, there were stumbling blocks. It would be so easy to just lose sight of where you are going and settle for what you have. The great leaders get it. They see the reality and ask how they can shape it, they see the stumbling block and ask how they might remove it.
An Ideologue goes charging blind headlong toward the precipice, a Politician tries to keep us happy on our own side, a Leader asks how we might bridge the gap. Jack was a leader.
Here is to you, Jack.
Here is to Leaders, those whose determination brings us together.
Here is to Visionaries, those whose eyes are fixed on a better tomorrow.
Here is to Great Men, those whose ranks have lost another.
My Hero. A Leader, a Visionary, a Great Man,
history can do you no justice- it is up to us-
to make our future a testament to your life,
to your vision, to your spirit.
Here, my friends, is to Heroes,
and a man who saw a Hero in us all.
I’ll miss you Jack.