22 08 2011

As you probably have read already, Jack Layton, the leader of the New Democratic Party and the head of Canada’s official opposition, died today at the age of 61. Shortly before his death, Layton achieved two major accomplishments: he became the first NDP leader to lead his party to second place status in the House and he  succeeded in wiping out the Bloc Quebecois.

Jack was also my MP, as I live in his riding of Toronto-Danforth. I met him once, rather unexpectedly, last fall: he was going door-to-door in my apartment building in support of Toronto city council candidate Mary Fragedakis. I was eating pizza on a Sunday night, there was  a knock at the door, and there they were. Good thing I was wearing pants! We didn’t talk long – my building is 21 stories high, and there are about 285 apartments in the building. Presumably, they knocked on all of them, and on all 285 doors in the building next door. Politics is sometimes just plain old hard work. (It paid off for Ms. Fragedakis – she won the election.)

I also saw Jack in two other places. The first was a few years ago; he was eating breakfast at the Sunset Grill at Danforth and Coxwell while I was there. He was with (presumably) an adviser, and spent the entire meal talking on his cellphone. This was at a time at which the Paul Martin government was on the brink of being toppled; presumably, Jack was deciding, there and then, whether to let it fall. None of the wait staff seemed to find it remarkable that the leader of the NDP was eating breakfast there; either they respected his privacy or he had been there before.

The second place I saw Jack was at his regular booth at the Taste Of The Danforth, at which passersby could say hi to him, have their picture taken with him, or whatever. I never got my picture taken with him; while I voted for him at least once, I am not a dyed-in-the-wool NDPer. Plus, I figured he was going to be around for a few years more. Little did I know.

From what I’ve read and heard of him, Jack seemed to genuinely like everyone he met, and always seemed willing to listen. He was also that rare person who was culturally at home in both Quebec and Toronto: he was born and raised in Quebec, and made his home in Toronto.  Both Torontonians and Quebecois are mourning the death of one of their own today, and so they should.

There are many reasons why so many people are so sad that he has died. During the past few years, Jack and his party moved from being relatively marginal figures on the Canadian political scene to being the centre of the progressive/social democratic movement in Canada; those who oppose Harper’s Conservatives looked to him as the best hope of eventually ending Tory rule. In an age of careful political calculations, he always appeared to be (and probably was) genuinely basing his actions on his own personal beliefs and convictions. In addition, he had a sense of humour and didn’t take himself too seriously. For these reasons, and many more, Jack Layton will be greatly missed.




One response

23 08 2011
Bruce Miller

“Socialist” not a dirty word in Canada! Jack Leyton, Tommy Douglas, well loved Canadian figures, Folk heroes if you will, and Canada, due to its complex nature, it’s unique climate, its rich cultural inheritance, its vast size, will always have a very strong “Socialist” component to all that happens in Canada. We thank the supporters, like Jack, for their support of one of the world’s very best Medical care systems, and we do not take our “social safety net” for granted, we expect to pay taxes for it, and we make constant demands on it. Corporations investing in Canada are welcomed – like everyone else, we need jobs, but we are willing to concede Corporate taxes, provide strong, work-ethic oriented, well educated, drug free – even by voluntary testing, workers to any company who wishes to make use of our strong, steady, nuclear and hydro power, clean water, lower housing costs, well connected by rail, and well kept highways. Canadian schools rate much higher than those in the U.S., Canadian food is far better regulated than the U.S. Canadians normally speak two or more languages, share many cultures, and ascend the cultural divisions found in the U.S. Federal and Provincial governments work hand in hand, to encourage establishment good clean, stable industry, giving them tax breaks, and other special allowances. Canada! A good place to invest, with the most trusted banking system in the world today. Thank you Jack Leyton, for bringing value to our land. We will sing songs in your name, for many years to come.

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