That’s what he’s best known for: being a tireless fighter and ultimately overcoming. And usually against the most imposing of odds. He did, after all, overcome prostate cancer and campaign while recovering from a hip injury, hone a message that resonated with English and French Canada and the First Nations, and turn a political party that some had written off as fringe into the Official Opposition. And more than that,
For my non-Canadian readers, Jack Layton was the leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, and the Official Opposition whose responsibility it is to keep our far-right Conservative government at bay. It is the NDP — and former MP for Burnaby-Douglas, Bill Siksay — who championed a human rights bill that would include transsexual and gender diverse Canadians in the Canada Human Rights Act and the hate crimes provisions of The Criminal Code of Canada.
I’ve written before about how Canada is a nation of many communities — Anglophone, Francophone, Aboriginal, multicultural, regional, sex and gender diverse, multi-theist and atheist, multigenerational and more — seeking enfranchisement in a Canada they can be proud to be a part of. Jack Layton understood this, and developed probably the closest to a decolonial vision of anyone on Canada’s political landscape.
Jack Layton first distinguished himself as a champion for the homeless, tirelessly crusading for those in the deepest of margins, as a Toronto City Councillor. He was strongly outspoken on health care, pensions, the rights of workers and unions, and nearly everything vital to the lives of Canadians from lower and middle economic classes, minorities and diverse communities.
The obituaries and tributes are pouring in: CBC, CTV, the PM, Global… but his own words speak loudest. A letter written two days before his death has been posted on the NDP website and around the net. From it:
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….
When he took a leave of absence not quite a month ago, he said:
If I have tried to bring anything to federal politics, it is the idea that hope and optimism should be at their heart.
We CAN look after each other better than we do today. We CAN have a fiscally responsible government. We CAN have a strong economy; greater equality; a clean environment.
We CAN be a force for peace in the world.
I am as hopeful and optimistic about all of this as I was the day I began my political work, many years ago.
I am hopeful and optimistic about the personal battle that lies before me in the weeks to come.
And I am very hopeful and optimistic that our party will continue to move forward.
We WILL replace the Conservative government, a few short years from now.
And we WILL work with Canadians to build the country of our hopes
Of our dreams
Of our optimism
Of our determination
Of our values…
Of our love.
And on his Twitter, his last message read:
Your support and well wishes are so appreciated. Thank you. I will fight this – and beat it.
Even now, I’m still tempted to believe him.