Best PM We Never Had

Jack Layton, 1950-2011I had a good feeling about Jack Layton from the day the NDP elected him as party leader; I even said so at the time, when aMMusing was only a babe of a blog. Now, Layton is dead, just a bit over three months after leading his party to the status of Official Opposition and less than a month after announcing, looking very ill and very gaunt, that he was “temporarily” stepping down as leader so that he could concentrate on winning a second fight against cancer.

I didn’t blog about Layton when he died a few weeks ago, in good part because I didn’t feel that I could add to what was already being said. But when I read on the morning of August 22 that he had died, I wasn’t surprised. While I was in Halifax, the Queen of Sheba sadly predicted that “he won’t make it to the end of August.” So, every morning when I would check the CBC News website, I expected to see the dreaded headline while hoping that Layton’s legendary optimism would prevail and that the Queen of Sheba would be wrong.

The outpouring of grief from coast to coast to coast reinforced the saying that we don’t know what we’d be losing until it’s gone. Even people who strongly disagreed with Jack’s politics expressed sadness over his passing. Never had a Leader of the Opposition who hadn’t held higher office died while in office.

Questions immediately arose about how the Orange Wave that swept Québec during last spring’s election was due exclusively to Jack’s popularity — Le Bon Jack — a leader who, unlike the others, spoke of optimism and hope and change and avoided negative attacks on his opponents during the election campaign. In truth, many first-time NDP voters in Québec implicitly voted for Jack rather than their unknown NDP candidate, as the people here are notorious for voting a large blocks, animated by a strong desire for change — change that Jack incarnated.

The 59 NDP MPs from Québec must now live up to the challenge. They have four years to do it. Having decimated the sovereignist Bloc Québécois, they must rebuff the attacks over how some of them once held sympathies for the Bloc or, provincially, the Parti Québécois or Québec Solidaire.

The lack of political sophistication among voters outside Québec never ceases to amaze me. It seems impossible for them to understand that the Québécois can look at a party’s whole platform and, finding that most of it fits with their political leanings, they can overlook those parts with which they disagree, like Québec sovereignty. Back in the day when the NDP was a non-entity here, had I been living in the east side of Montréal rather than the west, I would have voted Bloc for two reasons: (1) it’s left-of-centre and (2) it would have prevented the seat from going to the Conservatives. Even today, there are parts of the NDP platform with which I don’t fully agree, but it’s the closest that I’ve got.

Jack was a rassembleur — a “uniter” — the likes of which we have rarely seen on the Canadian political landscape. He did that with his eternal optimism and deep belief that change CAN happen. I admit that I would cringe when he’d start election campaigns saying, “My name is Jack Layton, and I’m running for Prime Minister,” but with perseverance, he came to form the government-in-waiting in 2011. “Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done…”

And in the last hours of his life, the best PM Canada never had left us with his inspiring political manifesto.

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.

May he rest in peace, and may we honour his memory.