Jack Layton, Godspeed

JackkI’m rooting for opposition leader Jack Layton.  If you did not know Jack Layton went on television Monday afternoon and announced to the country that he was taking a leave of absence to fight a new cancer, which was found at the end of the last parliamentary session.  Mr. Layton said that he had been successful fighting for prostate cancer but several tests had shown that there was a new cancer to be dealt with.

Of course I know that you as my readers wish Jack Layton well.  We will all look forward to seeing Jack Layton beat this cancer and continue as one of the most popular Canadian leaders of our time.  Obviously, this has been a very difficult episode for Mr. Layton and his family.  It was obvious from his physical stature that the battle with cancer is on.

I have met Jack Layton on two occasions.  The first occasion was an Essex County where I was asked to meet him with a group of farmers during a campaign stop in 2006.  I had put together a video of a farm rally in Wallaceburg Ontario, packaged it as a DVD and donated the proceeds to the local food bank.  During the federal election campaign of that winter I managed to give the video to each of our political leaders.  When I gave Jack Layton the video, he pulled out five dollars from his pocket and gave it to me.  Of course I was somewhat shocked, but he said he was happy to donate to the food bank.  He obviously had heard about it earlier and was prepared with five dollars.  It was a wonderful act at the micro level to alleviate hunger in Canada.

He was campaigning that day in the riding of Essex.  The NDP had always had strong support in Windsor Ontario and the surrounding county always had a streak of NDP support.  He tried hard to win that riding, but as of yet has been unsuccessful.  One of these days it may happen.

The second time I met Jack Layton was on April 6, 2006.  I found myself that day with a microphone with 10,000 farmers in front of me on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.  I was the co-chairman leading the protest with the help of my colleague Pierre Rheaume from Québec.  It was a huge event, maybe the largest in Canadian history so almost every politician showed up.

I was busy with leading the crowd especially when there was a Québec legend on stage.  Rheaume was famous in Québec and I was probably one of the few Ontario farmers who were aware of that.  So I was very busy trying to focus on the task at hand and at the same time not making a fool out of myself.  Then, from behind somebody tapped me on my shoulder.  I turned around like anybody would and I was shocked to see Jack Layton extend his hand and say Phil, how are you?

I was so taken aback; I didn’t know what to say.  So I stammered out something like, Jack, we need a new Canadian agricultural safety net for farmers.  Jack Layton retorted, “Phil, we’re going to make sure you get one.” My adrenaline was pumping.

In the intervening years Jack Layton fought two more election campaigns valiantly.  During the last campaign at the outset many commentators thought it would be his ticket to leave.  However, he surprised them by sweeping the province of Québec, effectively eliminating the Bloc Quebecois from the political landscape.  That helped make him the leader of the opposition.  If he adds a few more weeks, he may have been our Prime Minister.

Jack Layton’s biggest advantage as a politician was his sincerity, which was reflected in his smiling face.  The NDP did not win Québec, the personality of Jack Layton did.  At the same time the NDP finished second in many southwestern Ontario ridings where one time they may have lost their deposit.  Many local candidates were riding the coattails of Jack Layton.  My 80-year-old mother had an NDP folder on her counter during the election campaign.  Even though the campaign is over, she has cut Jack Layton’s picture out of the folder and kept it on her counter.

The simple fact is Canadians really like Jack Layton and feel terribly bad that he is fighting cancer.  A year ago I was part of the largest tractor parade in the world where locals raised over $100,000 to fight cancer.  It is a disease that affects us all.  Now, once again it is striking at a very public figure.  Jack Layton, Canada is praying for you. Godspeed.