Thoughts on Jack

August 27, 2011 at 1:42 pm Leave a comment

Like hundreds of thousands of Canadians – many of them standing in line right this moment or clustered in throngs along the route from City Hall to Roy Thompson Hall paying their respects – I find myself deeply moved by Jack Layton’s death.

At the risk of it being “too soon,” I also feel compelled to analyze my own and others’ responses in an effort to contribute to the kind of long-term response by Canadians that I believe could, and should, occur as the NDP, the Canadian federal political system and Canadians in general start to fill the leadership vacuum Layton leaves behind.

Note, aside from the title of this post which is tongue-in-cheek, I’m not calling him “Jack,” as so many in the media, on the internet and in real life seem to be doing.

Many of these people had never met the man, and in all likelihood may never have categorized themselves as any kind of NDPer-*gasp*-socialist. In fact, I suspect that many of these people would have scoffed and possibly been quite vocal in casting aspersions on the NDP, on Layton, on his wife Olivia Chow and on all those “left-wing nutjobs” who were more clearly and publicly allied with Layton and his politics in the past.

I call bullshit on this behaviour; but at the same time, I understand it and applaud it – it tells me that people view him as a symbol of something important; and that they are willing to stand up and speak up for the man, his values, and his politics – at least now, in the few days after his death, as the celebritization of grief and public mourning is in full effect.

But, I will quell my cynicism because we need every single Canadian – the ones who didn’t vote Harper, or didn’t vote at all – to align themselves with Layton’s values now more than ever before in this country, regardless of partisan political leanings.

May 2nd changed everything.

I have been a keen observer of politics my whole adult life and, while not a card-carrying leftie, my own political convictions generally fall on the small-l liberal side of the spectrum. I’ve voted NDP, I’ve voted Liberal, I likely will vote Green at some point, and I’ve also not voted in disgust at all of them.

I’ve never voted Conservative, although some of my positions might overlap with those of the “Red Tories” (are there any remaining?), to the surprise of some of my friends.

I have been adamant, public and vocal about my dislike for Stephen Harper, his party, and the current trajectory of Harper-style (read, Bush-Republican style) politics at the federal and, in Toronto, municipal level.

My heart broke on May 2nd in ways that I can barely describe. Not because the Conservatives earned a majority government – that is democracy, and despite THEIR lack of respect for it, I have and always will respect that process.

My heart broke because those politically active enough to exercise the most basic expression of their political leanings (i.e., their vote), were persuaded by the politics of fear and anger. They voted for personal opportunism over collective compassion; they voted for narrow self-interest rather than a bigger vision, an idealistic vision, one with integrity.

To paraphrase Mr. Layton’s last letter to us (and is it just me, but was he influenced by MLK Jr. there?):

They voted out of anger instead of love.

They voted out of fear instead of hope.

They voted for despair and cynicism, instead of joy and optimism.

Saner heads than mine have insisted since May that, in fact, a greater majority of Canadians voted against Harper than for him – and that’s not even considering the 40% who didn’t vote at all.

What I see, right now, in this outpouring of public grief, is interesting in any number of different ways. But mostly, it’s interesting because it is an expression of political activism – a political voice (notwithstanding the tremendous achievement of Layton’s NDP) that was all but silenced, I hope temporarily, in May.

My deepest concern is that this activism is momentary, fleeting, and an expression more of celebrity watching than political conviction. That it reflects more a desire to be “part” of something big, dramatic and reality-TV-worthy without needing to do much more than turn on a TV or surf the Internet.

Layton’s death is a political event of *enormous* magnitude. It will shape in broad strokes what happens next for Canada in terms of political direction. The reality is that Layton leaves behind a national party that is barely that (its MPs elected in Quebec represent more than 50% of its strength), and an official Opposition that has, first, absolutely no experience to serve in that capacity; second, has barely coalesced as a party never mind an Official Opposition, and third and most detrimentally, is now without a leader.

This party is a preemie birth who has now been weaned too early. I fear for its health – and with it, the health of Canada’s political system.  I fear that it won’t be strong enough – without the sustained support of those who coalesce around it – to face off and win against the forces that oppose it, who just happen to be in a position of pretty much unrestrained power at this point.

It is this party – or rather – the political movement that will (or maybe will not) form in the vacuum of the death of its leader – that offers what I see as the only hope for the politics of compassion, social justice, diversity of opinion, respect for democracy and a regaining of Canada’s position on the world stage.

As I watch the casket being lifted and led out of City Hall – a City Hall that is currently led by politicians who embody the antithesis of Layton’s values – by a single piper, I feel the tears well up — and they are not just for Mr. Layton.

Rest in peace, Mr. Layton. I commit to supporting your values and contributing to positive, constructive social change in Canada where and how I can, despite my own cynicism and dismay. I’m going to lean on you and your example — as I know you would want — and will try to allow your sense of optimism to inspire me, as I’m sorry to say my own has taken a bit of a beating the past few months.

Wish us luck.

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Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Thank you, Michael Vick

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