Working from home yesterday morning, I got a disturbing text from my boss. It informed me that Jack Layton had died. Unfortunately, the only “news source” I had readily available was SUN TV. While I was initially surprised at the level of sympathy and praise coming out of this far-right leaning station, I soon realized that they only had about 10 minutes worth of positive filler that they managed to loop through the two hours of live broadcast I was privileged enough to enjoy. My anger began to stew. It wasn’t directed at the network or at its various right-wing guests, including Brian Mulroney and Ezra Levant, but at the state of affairs in our country. It came from the guttural feeling that Jack was the last, best hope for true change in Canada anytime soon.
I tried not to let it get to me. Not like this past May’s election when I was in downtown Toronto enjoying friendly company at the NDP election night party. As the astounding results from Quebec poured in there was great cheer in the air, but something was wrong. The Conservatives’ numbers were also high and we hadn’t yet begun to get results from Ontario or further west. Though the orange and green in my blood held onto hope; that is until I was on my way out to have a smoke with the girl I had been seeing at the time. When we got to the escalators leading to the street, the screen in the lobby showed a Harper Conservative majority.
As we puffed away, I couldn’t keep my outrage to myself. How could this happen? What are Canadians thinking?! My date was sympathetic, but had obviously not invested as much of her hope in expecting “great change” to come from these election results as I had; and honestly, as a life-long NDPer, nor should’ve I. The left is sadly used to severe disappointment.
We went back in to encounter a line and after festering in it for about half an hour, I opted to go elsewhere, leaving the rest of our friends inside. She was hungry, so we stopped at The Loose Moose. There were a few people speckled about the front and a large group sporting hockey jerseys and Steelers hats – suburbanites – rowdily watching multiple TVs at the back. We were sharing some sweet potato fries and pints when the election was called on some of the TVs around us. A small tear rose into my eye, but quickly retreated when the crowd at the back erupted in cheers.
Seriously? You working-class citizens are celebrating a Harper majority?! Do you know what that means for you? Chances are… nothing good. So, why the hell are you happy? The way it broke down in my head at the time is that they were a bunch of rednecks. They like Harper because he isn’t associated with pussy things like unions and welfare. Harper doesn’t like taxes and neither do they. So, obviously he’s the right guy to lead this country. The easiest way for politicians to appeal to us masses is to find a big issue or two and repeat their stance on it over and over again. No matter how intent they are on doing something about it or how legitimate a service it is, they’ve got the message to the people that they’re on our side. Even if they’ve been proven to be full of shit time and time again, and the future under their leadership is looking bleak, people are stuck in their ways. Most don’t care enough about politics to read past the headlines or seek out the information necessary to realize that CTV, for example, is not an unbiased “news source”. Many are also of the belief that the Harper Conservatives are cut from the same cloth as the PCs of yesteryear, and not a pack of bible-thumping, corporate interests with no respect for proper governance, or democracy itself.
The election results were record-breaking for the NDP. Viewed in isolation, they were cause for celebration. While the unexpected demise of the Liberals left “the left” with no balance of power, Jack Layton was given the opportunity to speak directly to the Canadian people. His charisma and genuine concern for the well being of everyone was more than apparent, it is unparalleled. There is little doubt that his character led to the NDP’s vault into official opposition status. His death leaves a great hole in the party and the hearts of many in Canada. So, what do we do now?
In his final letter to the country, Jack speaks to everyone. He praises love over anger and hope over fear. I feel that this is because he understood what it’s like to be part of the thinking-minority, while realizing that anger, fear and hate are the weapons of Harpers, Fords, Tea Partiers and the like.
This saddening occurrence is a real speed-bump in the road to progressive (not Conservative) government, but it isn’t a dead end. If we’re to take Jack’s parting words for what they were meant to do, we should be inspired. Inspired by his hope for and love of this nation. Inspired to share that love with each other, especially with those who may not yet understand what he was truly about: Change for the better.
Anger, no matter how natural a feeling, will only betray Jack’s memory if we hold onto it. It’s impossible to better the world when you feel as if you’ve already lost instead of haven’t yet won.
“As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. 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.”
– Jack Layton