Singing the praises of Jack Layton (1950-2011) R.I.P.

After a long and, sadly, recurring bout with Cancer, Jack Layton, leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party who raised a “third party” brand into the mainstream position of Canada’s Official Opposition Party, has succumbed. I was an admirer who voted for him and his party when I lived in my homeland, and many of my friends knew him personally. I never knew him one-to-one like that, but if you can judge a man (or woman) by the works they do on earth, I can attest without a doubt that Jack (for we all knew him as just Jack) was that rare politician of decency and humanity, who was truly about “public service” rather than ego gratification. You sensed you weren’t voting for “him” but for the notion of what Canada is really about, and what it could become. It’s not for nothing that many embraced the image above, a blatant homage to  Shepard Fairey’s iconic Obama Hope poster. His passing is sad not only for his family and friends, but for Canadian politics which has lost a true champion of the people.

From Toronto, here’s what Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew tweeted:

I heard about this in a little round up over at Spinner featuring a selection of musicians praising Jack, you can read that here.

They also included a tweet from the UK’s voice of the working person, Billy Bragg, who was well aware of Jack’s values:

And of course, my good friend, ex-Barenaked Ladies singer Steven Page, who knew and worked for Jack on a few campaigns.

He was a smart and friendly man who liked to laugh and sing as well.
Here he was in 2005 singing the “new NDP Theme Song” (to the tune of Roger Miller’s “King of The Road”):

And here, he was interviewed by another Canadian institution, Narduar The Human Serviette:

His wife, Olivia Chow, also a politician, has released the letter to Canadians that Jack wanted published upon the sad eventuality of his death. I think you don’t have to be Canadian to feel this message. Also, I am hoping it is legal for me to reprint it here in full, my intention is to keep his word alive:

Letter To Canadians by Jack Layton

Dear Friends,
Tens of thousands of Canadians have written to me in recent weeks to wish me well. I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughtful, inspiring and often beautiful notes, cards and gifts. Your spirit and love have lit up my home, my spirit, and my determination.
Unfortunately my treatment has not worked out as I hoped. So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.
I recommend that Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel continue her work as our interim leader until a permanent successor is elected.
I recommend the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the New Year, on approximately the same timelines as in 2003, so that our new leader has ample time to reconsolidate our team, renew our party and our program, and move forward towards the next election.
A few additional thoughts:
To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer.
To the members of my party: we’ve done remarkable things together in the past eight years. It has been a privilege to lead the New Democratic Party and I am most grateful for your confidence, your support, and the endless hours of volunteer commitment you have devoted to our cause. There will be those who will try to persuade you to give up our cause. But that cause is much bigger than any one leader. Answer them by recommitting with energy and determination to our work. Remember our proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions and making sure no one is left behind. Let’s continue to move forward. Let’s demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.
To the members of our parliamentary caucus: I have been privileged to work with each and every one of you. Our caucus meetings were always the highlight of my week. It has been my role to ask a great deal from you. And now I am going to do so again. Canadians will be closely watching you in the months to come. Colleagues, I know you will make the tens of thousands of members of our party proud of you by demonstrating the same seamless teamwork and solidarity that has earned us the confidence of millions of Canadians in the recent election.
To my fellow Quebecers: On May 2nd, you made an historic decision. You decided that the way to replace Canada’s Conservative federal government with something better was by working together in partnership with progressive-minded Canadians across the country. You made the right decision then; it is still the right decision today; and it will be the right decision right through to the next election, when we will succeed, together. You have elected a superb team of New Democrats to Parliament. They are going to be doing remarkable things in the years to come to make this country better for us all.
To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. 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.
And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. 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. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

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.

All my very best,

Jack Layton

Jack Layton (1950-2011) Image by Matt Jiggins

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3 Responses to “Singing the praises of Jack Layton (1950-2011) R.I.P.”

  1. A nice tribute Paul. The man had such a remarkable spirit – we all need to be a bit more like him, and stand up for what we believe.

  2. Thanks for the tribute Paul. Jack Layton, a man who’s final act was to take the NDP from 4th party status to the Official Opposition will always be remembered for his ideas, compassion and his stance on social justice. I cast my vote in the last federal election for the NDP and couldn’t be more proud today. Jack’s optimism has inspired me today to become a better person.

  3. gary Preston Says:

    Voted NDP all my life. Not at all political but I liked the man, seemed real and sincere!

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