Rest in peace Jack Layton .. “Optimism is better than despair”

Aug 22nd, 2011 | By | Category: In Brief

New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton arrives to his party’s election event in Toronto, February 16, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese.

It was less than a month ago (Monday, July 25, 2011) that Jack Layton announced: “ I have a new, non-prostate cancer that will require further treatment … So, on the advice of my doctors, I am going to focus on treatment and recovery … I will therefore be taking a temporary leave of absence as Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada.”

On TV and in the photographs published at the time he did not look good — especially when you think of how good he did look during the greatest election campaign of his life, which had only ended on Monday, May 2, 2011. Even so, it was a shock to get up this morning and discover that, at the still all too youthful age of 61, he “died peacefully at 4:45 a.m. ET today at his Toronto home, surrounded by family and loved ones.”

Montreal-born Jack Layton walks along the route of the annual St. Jean Baptiste parade in Montreal proudly waving Quebec's national symbol and flag, the Fleur des Lis, June 24, 2010. Photo: Peter McCabe, The Canadian Press.

Beyond expressing our grief and sadness, along with everyone else, we don’t have any deep thoughts. But we think it is worth quoting from two impressive enough documents that have quickly surfaced on the world wide web.

The first is a report from The Canadian Press. Jack Layton, it notes, “was a man who carried politics in his genes. A great-grandfather was a Father of Confederation. His grandfather, a Quebec provincial cabinet minister in a Union Nationale government. His father, a Tory cabinet minister under Brian Mulroney … He was a believer. He made that clear in the first sentences of [his book] Speaking Out Louder : … “Politics matters. Ideas matter. Democracy matters, because all of us need to be able to make a difference.” It somehow seemed appropriate as well that CP ended its report with an allusion to an old religious text: “Deuteronomy 34 says God took Moses up to a high place and showed him the Promised Land in the distance … ‘I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither.’ So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord.”

Jack Layton addresses supporters as he starts his election campaign in Ottawa, March 26, 2011. Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS.

The second document is Jack Layton’s own last message to Canadians, dated Saturday, August 20, 2011 — less than two full days before his death. Our own two favourite passages are: “To my fellow Quebecers: On May 2nd, you made an historic decision. You decided that the way to … something better was …  working together in partnership with progressive-minded Canadians across the country. You made the right decision  …  And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one — a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children … 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.”

Two recent pieces on this site have also taken up issues that are or ought to be close to Mr. Layton and his party, at a poignant time in its history and the history of Canada  — in our opinion at least : “New NDP interim leader Nycole Turmel’s Bloc past shouldn’t matter .. but in real world of Canada right now it probably does?” (August 3, 2011) ; and “What if Canadian Senate reform also became a way of recognizing Québécois nation in a united Canada?” (June 27, 2011).

Jack Layton talks with reporters in Kamloops, BC on Friday, April 29, 2011. Andrew Vaughan / THE CANADIAN PRESS.

As for exactly what the promised land that Moses will never see may finally look like, we were still impressed by a verdict in Chantal Hébert’s  Toronto Star column this past Saturday, August 20 (when one of her subjects was all too sadly writing his last message to Canadians): “Even if NDP Leader Jack Layton manages to resume his duties as official opposition leader, the New Democrats and the Liberals will not pose a serious threat to the ruling Conservatives until they figure out a way to aim together in the same direction rather than shoot each other in the foot.”

We now know that Mr. Layton will not be resuming his duties this fall, all too sadly again. But our guess is that, in the strange spring and summer of 2011 (in Canada as in so many other parts of the world), he has nonetheless already made his own historic big contribution to the biggest picture of “working together in partnership with progressive-minded Canadians across the country” — from Bona Vista to Vancouver Island, and then all the way to the magnetic North Pole, in the land of northern lights, when the ice worms nest again.  (Or, to repeat, as Pierre Trudeau might say: “ Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world.” But: “We can be a better one,” and we owe it to Jack Layton to keep on trying, again and again and again.)

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  1. Great piece. Layton will truly be missed.

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