I am privileged to have once met and interviewed The Honourable Jack Layton. He was introducing three local candidates at Bar Bobards on boulevard St-Laurent during the 2006 election.
At least two of those candidates, it should be noted, were fervent Québec nationalists whose acceptance speeches left little doubt they were steadfastly looking for a platform to push Québecois separatism.
I should note that I had previously formed a rather withering opinion of Jack's father (the Honourable Robert Layton) when as a cub reporter during the 1988 election, I saw him in action as a Mulroney Progressive Conservative incumbent, getting booed at an all-candidates debate for suggesting Lac St-Louis water would become clean enough to drink if Mulroney was given a second mandate. As it turned out, Robert Layton was easily re-elected by West Island voters who ultimately voted for him as default support for passage of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States.
So I was curious to ask son Jack, back in 2006, why he'd spoken so reverently of his father - who had himself succumbed to prostate cancer some four years earlier - on the two occasions I had come out to see him speak as NDP leader. Well, Jack looked me square in the eye and said he had great respect for his father, but that didn't mean they saw eye-to-eye on very much, politically. In fact, he related, that was the one area they were always at loggerheads, notwithstanding having a loving and respectful relationship as father and son.
Can you imagine a more honest, human, and respectful answer? Not I. And I have no idea if my question - which I only posed because I had never heard him asked it before - caused him to rethink his stump speech. But I never again heard him speak of his father's influence when introducing himself as the NDP leader, as if he had determined the astute voter might be as confused as I was, given their almost diametrically opposed politics.
It is in this spirit that I remember and revere the man whom I unfortunately must still blame (partially, at least) for putting Harper in the PM chair, by whipping his party to vote down the Martin government; something historians will doubtlessly argue was or wasn't a seminal moment in the NDP's existential journey as an independent political force.
A mixed legacy on policy
I also recall his insistence on going cap and trade instead of carbon tax when the latter made more sense, and finding his reasoning on that choice rather wanting. I recall with sadness his decision to have his party vote against a 2007 (?) Liberal motion to end the Afghanistan mission in July, 2009, based on the fact they really should be brought home immediately (he was quite right on that point of course), which unfortunately ended up with the misguided mission continuing on much longer. Also, Jack's reticence at allowing Green Party Leader Elizabeth May to be included in the 2008 election debates rankled.
Meanwhile, I championed Jack Layton grandly for forcing the 2005 Martin budget to be amended to halt planned corporate tax cuts while increasing social spending in the period where the NDP held the balance of power. I even voted for one of his throw-away candidates while living in the Outremont riding after Paul Martin had parachuted a former Bloc-Québecois founder (Jean Lapierre) in to take Martin Cauchon's place.
And yesterday morning I cried - yet not so much as on last July 25, when we all saw death tapping impatiently on Jack's shoulder - to hear of his passing.
Despite anything else, Jack Layton was a good egg. He tried. He fought. He brandished humour and a forthrightness that was touching and palpable in both official languages. He worked with dedication to his ideals with true and rare conviction. In short, he stood for something, and he made sure that it was a something he could get fully behind. Then he would make a convincing argument that you and I and every other Canadian could get behind it too.
As long as we listened to our hearts.
Now, a huge gabble of neophyte NDP Québec MPs will have to find their way in the HoC. They also must prove their worthiness to their constituents, despite being stripped of the coattails of the one guy in whom the voters put their full-throttle faith. And that was no small leap of faith either. These voters bravely abandoned their BQ candidates who had mostly done nothing less than tirelessly represent their constituents' interests in Ottawa with pride and passion for several years.
No, the Bloquistes can only blame their party's connection with separatism on their historic defeat to the mostly unknown Dippers that won their constituents' votes based almost solely on Jack Layton's endorsement. Continued NDP support in Québec will be a very tough sell, regardless of Thomas Mulcair's considerable respect in this province.
But that sort of speculation should be explored another day. For today, I am pleased that our Prime Minister has been honourable enough (against type) to bequeath a state funeral for Jack Layton.
Hard to believe as I type his name that he is no longer with us.
Jack, all in all, you did good by us Canadians. Posthumous gratitude in spades. Many, many thanks. RIP, if that is at all possible for you!
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