When I heard the news I was deeply saddened. It was only back on July 25th that I wrote a column about opposition leader Jack Layton and his new fight with cancer. At that time, I entitled the column Jack Layton, Godspeed. Sometimes in life we do not know why bad things happen to good people. So when Jack Layton died today, it was one of those times. Canada has lost one of her greats.
I don’t really know Jack Layton, but sometimes I feel I do. In 2006 as many of you know I led protests on Parliament Hill. I have told the story many times, about Jack Layton coming up from behind me and tapping me on the shoulder. Like anybody, I simply turned around and there was Jack Layton. It was an amazing moment for me, not so amazing for him, I’m sure, but he made me feel comfortable in a high-pressure situation. Earlier I had run into him during a campaign stop in Essex County where he donated to a local food bank. When the NDP had the high watermark during this last election campaign, it made me feel good. It was just one of those times where you thought a good guy like Jack Layton was getting his due. If he had a couple more weeks of campaigning he might’ve been Prime Minister.
Make no mistake; this is a very sad story. The NDP has always been on the edge of Canadian politics, never close to power at the federal level. So it is a very sad thing to see such a wonderful man coming so close to be taken down by his own mortality. However, he seemed to be at peace with that in his last letter to Canadians extolling the people of the NDP to keep going, that causes are much greater than one leader. For the NDP, the road ahead now seems so daunting.
The state funeral will take place on Saturday in Toronto. You can bet that it will be one of the biggest Toronto and Canada will ever see. Jack Layton was a unique Canadian politician who believed patiently for the little guy, the homeless and a whole host of other causes, which meant so much to many. When somebody is taken from us, “before their time”, it is so hard.
This is going to be a huge loss for Canada. I have often written in the past how politics is such a blood sport. I’ve also written how I would never want to be involved in it. So with somebody like Jack Layton tirelessly working and now suddenly gone, there will be a huge void in Ottawa. Try as we might to believe everybody can be replaced, sometimes losing a leader like this causes a great fracture that cannot be replaced for many years. This is one of those times.
If you have had a chance to read the letter that Jack Layton left for Canadians, you will know that it is very special. And if you have not had a chance to read that letter, it is a must read for everybody. I found it to be a personal message to me as well as Canadians. This column is going to be a little shorter than normal because I want to end it with Jack’s words. He signed off his letter with the following paragraph.
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 Aug 21, 2011
Jack Layton, thank you, I’m sure you have found a place in heaven on the left hand of God. And yes, we will follow your words, and change the world.