On the night of the last federal election, I sat in a pub with a friend and watched wide-eyed as the results rolled in on the big screen.
I couldn’t help but feel a sense of excitement as riding after riding turned NDP orange. It was a phenomenon. It was history in the making. It was something political science and journalism students would be writing essays about for decades.
Jack Layton’s NDP – the new official opposition.
Although I am a political junkie, I tend to be very cynical about the whole thing. After all, I worked as a reporter for several years before crossing over to “the dark side” (PR). I know about spin. I know about marketing. I know that successful politicians are often part of a complete package.
Generally, I am not one for hero worship, and I did not expect to find a hero and inspiration in a politician.
But I did.
Many years ago when I was still reporting for this newspaper, a sitting prime minister kicked off an election campaign by making Perth the first stop.
While that in itself is pretty cool, I was more excited about the fact I managed to get some really good photos of the visit than I was about being in proximity of the prime minister.
I would have loved, however, to have met Jack Layton.
I’m not a card-carrying member of any party and I never have been. When I vote, I am usually not voting for a party, but a person. First, I consider who will best represent our riding, but I also consider how that decision will affect the overall outcome – the seat count and who will become prime minister.
It is rarely an easy decision.
Strong PR can win an election, and sometimes the politician behind the spin turns out not to be who you think they are. I think that’s what made Jack a phenomenon: what his PR people dished out to the public could be reconciled with the man himself. He was who he said he was. He acted on the things he said he would and, by all accounts, it seems he treated people well when he did it.
The politics of positivism have been, I think, pretty much unheard of in my time, so Jack’s campaign filled people with a sense of optimism. It represented a change from regular political shenanigans. It was a first step to rising above everything that makes people cynical about politicians.
What a rollercoaster it has been! A meteoric rise to the summit of this hope for positive change, only to plummet into sadness as a man, who many would call a hero, is struck down too soon.
Who could help but be moved by Jack’s final letter – his instructions to his colleagues and Canadians – what Stephen Lewis dubbed his “manifesto for social democracy”? How can we not join this national groundswell to live well by doing good things – big or small – for others?
How can we not? It is the human thing to do – and yet part of Jack’s legacy is to remind us that it needs to be done.
I still marvel about what happened in Canada on election night, and I am amazed (even in this strange era of societal grief-en-masse) by the national outpouring of grief.
I was surprised by my own reaction last Monday morning when I read the “breaking news” banner on my computer that Jack Layton had died. It absolutely ruined my day – my week, actually. I wept for a man I had never met and did not really know.
Are we that starved, as Canadians – as people – for positive thinkers? I think we are.
As I get older I have learned how important it is to surround oneself with positive, constructive people and I struggle every day to be one of them. Life is too short to spend it complaining. If something isn’t working or isn’t right, it is up to us to fix it.
Jack was a positive force who put his words into action and worked joyfully to make the world a better place.
Whether it is through big actions or small, we can – and should – all do the same.
Farewell, Jack, and thank you.
Published in The Perth Courier, Sept. 1/11