At 61, Jack Layton was by no means a young man. He had lead a long and full life compared to most.
But as the first NDP leader to make the New Democratic Party official opposition in Canadian history, I would say he still had a lot of life to live.
The one thing we can do, as Canadians, is to make sure that his visions and his hope and optimism for Canada’s future did not die with him.
This year’s federal election was a first in many ways. It boasted the a higher voter turnout than the previous election, but what’s more impor- tant, those votes changed the landscape of Canadian politics.
The majority of Quebec’s ridings were won by rookie NDP MPs, and rendered the Bloc Quebecois more or less obsolete as it lost party status for the first time since its first election.
The Liberal party, for so long considered Canada’s natural governing party, fell into third place.
Neither of the party leaders, gilles Duceppe and Michael Ignatieff managed to secure even their own ridings, never mind a foothold for their parties in Parliament. Elizabeth May became the first green Party candidate to win a seat in the House of Commons.
As of May 2nd the view from Ottawa was a majority blue (how that happened I will never understand) but with a strong contrast of orange, and maybe a few drops of green.
But above all, the view was a hopeful one. for the first time in my living memory, there appeared to be a chance for reform in Canada at the federal level. I’m convinced the only person that could possibly inspire hope after seeing a conservative majority was Jack Layton.
His post-election speech was seriously awesome (in the biblical sense), I remember being at a loss in understanding how it was Harper was still in power, and there was Smiling Jack, up on stage, waving his cane like a banner, barely able to get a word in above all the cheering.
As far as I am concerned, Jack Layton won the election. He secured official opposition, a huge achievement, and was ready to use that influence to make some serious change in parliament.
Now that he has left us, we cannot lose that hope he had in the face of another term with Harper. If he could look to that future and still have hope, so must we as well.
I refuse to believe that without Jack Layton the New Democratic Party will fall from its current state of grace. We cannot allow his success to be fleeting. Though I feel this incredible despair with his passing. I be- lieve his winning the official opposition really was a historical moment and I pray that his hope and optimism (so refreshing in our culture of apathy) do not become a blip in Canadian political history.
In a letter to written two days before his death, Jack Layton said to the youth: “I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.”
I hope that young people really acknowledge the importance of his accomplishments and recognize that we need to carry on in that same direction if we are going to see a change in the face of Canadian politics. We are at a tipping point. We can either carry on and really see a difference in Canada and its international role, or fall back to the same destructive, oppressive, conservative system.
To all Canadians, Jack Layton said: “ We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change.”
Jack Layton may not have lived to make the changes he dreamed of and worked for, but he laid the foundation for it. He left us early, but he left us with an official opposition that can and will challenge the Harper government.
He left us with a totally new political terrain for Canada.
He left us further ahead than I think we have been in a long time, and finally, he left us with hope. Let us not give up that hope.
“Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done,” Jack closes his letter. In Jack Layton’s memory, let’s fight for a better Canada.
as published in the Ryerson Free Press, September 2011