Yesterday, Canadians were shocked by the news that Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada and the official opposition, passed away from cancer. As a member of ‘Laytontown’, I have no doubt that the loss of his indomitable and optimistic presence is deeply felt by every resident of the riding, regardless of political conviction.
I remember the election in 2004, when the winds of change had finally brought him to be the Member of Parliament for our riding. I was still young then and, as far as I could remember, many people were fed up with the previous Liberal MP who didn’t seem to be doing anything for us. Since then, it has felt as though our riding could vote nothing but NDP.
While I didn’t have a good understanding of political ideology when I was young, I did know that Jack had beliefs that were very similar to the ones we were taught in school. Our neighbourhood believed in the beauty of diversity and the value of respect for all. In grade five, I remember having trouble sleeping at night, troubled by the fact that other people didn’t have the rights and comforts that we enjoyed, and that we were ruining ourselves by ruining the environment. Jack Layton’s vision for the future seemed to fit with the values that we grew up with and we firmly believed that Jack was someone who could represent us well and bring about that ideal future of equality, sustainability, and hope.
At the same time, it seemed as though Jack really understood the character of the riding. Although it is part of the largest city in Canada, the neighbourhood in which I grew up had the good qualities of a small town – you knew who your neighbours were and you would help each other at the best and worst of times. It was always a comfort to know that, no matter what happened, your neighbours were there for you, even if they weren’t family or even close friends. In that sense, Jack was always there for us, despite his busy career as leader of the NDP. He attended every one of our Canada Day celebrations in the local park and I once had the fortune of shaking his hand at a local charity auction. He gave my friends and I great praise for being volunteers at a community event and chatted with the attendees like they were old friends. At the same event, the organizers informed him of another upcoming event, and he pulled out his Blackberry and noted it down in his calendar. He said that, although he may not be able to attend the entire event, he would try to come. Later in the year, one of the staff, who is a close friend, said that Jack did attend a portion of the event as promised.
Jack Layton was truly a great man who gave us reason to believe that the world could be changed for the better. He was an optimist, a leader with integrity, a fighter, and an affable politician (something that is almost an oxymoron) who fought valiantly against all odds to try to make Canada, and the world, a better place. His passion and commitment to his work will always be remembered and appreciated.
Rest in peace, Jack Layton, you will be missed.
Read Jack Layton’s final letter to Canadians here.