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Oh, for more leaders like this, rise in glory Jack Layton

Oh, for more leaders like this, rise in glory Jack Layton

Malcolm French at Simple Massing Priest writes of the Honorable Jack Layton of Canada:

For my non-Canadian readers, last Monday morning we learned of the death of the Honourable Jack Layton, Leader of the Official Opposition, Member of Parliament for Toronto Danforth and Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada.

In the Canadian system (like other Commonwealth countries but unlike the United States), the Leader of the Opposition is effectively the Prime Minister in waiting. Indeed, in Westminster style democracies, the Leader of the Opposition and his/her leading Parliamentary colleagues are referred to as the Shadow Cabinet.

Jack had just led the New Democratic Party to a major electoral breakthrough when Canadians went to the polls less than four months ago. For the first time, his party (my party) would be the second largest party in our federal Parliament – and hence the presumptive government in waiting.

The New Democrats – like the UK Labour Party, the Spanish Socialists or the German Social Democrats – are part of the Socialist International. For my American readers, this means there really is no party quite like this one in your electoral experience.

The morning Jack died, his family released a letter he had written in the previous few days. A multi-layered epistle to the people of Canada, it held out a hope for a new style of politics that is pure Jack Layton:

Read it all below —

And here is a video remembrance by This hour has 22 minutes – a satirical comedy show (sort of like The Daily Show)

A letter to Canadians from the Honourable Jack Layton

August 20, 2011

Toronto, Ontario

Dear Friends,

Tens of thousands of Canadians have written to me in recent weeks to wish me well. I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughtful, inspiring and often beautiful notes, cards and gifts. Your spirit and love have lit up my home, my spirit, and my determination.

Unfortunately my treatment has not worked out as I hoped. So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.

I recommend that Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel continue her work as our interim leader until a permanent successor is elected.

I recommend the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the New Year, on approximately the same timelines as in 2003, so that our new leader has ample time to reconsolidate our team, renew our party and our program, and move forward towards the next election.

A few additional thoughts:

To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer.

To the members of my party: we’ve done remarkable things together in the past eight years. It has been a privilege to lead the New Democratic Party and I am most grateful for your confidence, your support, and the endless hours of volunteer commitment you have devoted to our cause. There will be those who will try to persuade you to give up our cause. But that cause is much bigger than any one leader. Answer them by recommitting with energy and determination to our work. Remember our proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions and making sure no one is left behind. Let’s continue to move forward. Let’s demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.

To the members of our parliamentary caucus: I have been privileged to work with each and every one of you. Our caucus meetings were always the highlight of my week. It has been my role to ask a great deal from you. And now I am going to do so again. Canadians will be closely watching you in the months to come. Colleagues, I know you will make the tens of thousands of members of our party proud of you by demonstrating the same seamless teamwork and solidarity that has earned us the confidence of millions of Canadians in the recent election.

To my fellow Quebecers: On May 2nd, you made an historic decision. You decided that the way to replace Canada’s Conservative federal government with something better was by working together in partnership with progressive-minded Canadians across the country. You made the right decision then; it is still the right decision today; and it will be the right decision right through to the next election, when we will succeed, together. You have elected a superb team of New Democrats to Parliament. They are going to be doing remarkable things in the years to come to make this country better for us all.

To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.

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. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

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.

All my very best,


Jack Layton


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What a splendid farewell letter. Nice video tribute, too. I wish we had a Jack Layton here in the US.

June Butler

Rod Gillis

The accolades for the political accomplishments of the late The Rt. Hon. Jack Layton are richly deserved. His political legacy will be one of the most remarkable in recent Canadian History.

History has yet to judge what all this means for governance and power in Canada. Has Jack broken the barrier for the NDP as a true “government in waiting” on the national stage, or will he be like Tommy Douglas and become a member of a revered pantheon of political heroes from a party that just cannot get into government? We’ll see.

Mr. Layton’s funeral was a truly representative collage of Canadiana–a simple but profound multi-cultural event coupled with political doxologies to both le bon Jack and the social democratic movement. Interestingly Christianity was represented true to form–marginally and awkwardly–hovering like the odd and eccentric cousin standing at the buffet table with the de riguer crowd.

Now that the funeral is over, political commentators in Canada will turn to the role played by Prime Minister Harper. He caught the wave of populism. He made the grand gesture of the state funeral-the first ever for a leader of the opposition. He neither praised nor jabbed at NDP policies but focused on condolences to Jack’s family and Canadians in general. He spent the days prior to the funeral on tour in the arctic but attended the funeral as Prime Minister. He even stood with others and applauded some of the political barbs from eulogist Stephen Lewis. Wise politics or true statesmanship, Prime Minister Harper deserves credit for his presentation in all of this–no one less than Jack Layton himself would be pleased.

Malcolm French+

With illness at home, my appreciation for days of the week is a little off. Jack actually died on Monday, not Saturday. The post at SMP has been corrected.

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