Goodnight, Jack.

Early this morning, Jack Layton, a man who embodied the passion, charisma and strength of a true politician lost his courageous battle with cancer. Regardless of if you liked his politics, I can’t think of a politician in recent times who was so well-loved by so many Canadians. If he wasn’t your leader, you wished yours was more like him.

Although many questioned whether or not he could be back in the House for September after his announcement in late July, we all knew that if anyone could do it, Jack could. From his time as a Toronto councillor, it was obvious that Jack had the guts and the drive to get there. In the most recent elections race, during which Jack must have known he was ill, he showed himself to be a more-than-viable candidate for Prime Minister. Questioning his opponents ruthlessly during debate, championing his party causes with eloquence and charming Canadians, Jack was the Prime Minister who never was.

Jack Layton was infinitely charming and friendly – that’s how I’ll remember him. During my time at Queen’s University, I was able to participate in Queen’s Model Parliament, spending a few days in the House of Commons debating and heckling fellow students. Jack was a frequent guest, often arriving at the wine & cheese and sometimes serving as speaker. He was always the most popular guest.

QMP 2010 by Radey Barrack

With a smile on his face & an eagerness to chat with whomever, Jack was always surrounded by a crowd of awe-struck students. He was the kind of leader who ignited political passion in students, regardless of their political stripes. With Jack, the self-important aura that often surrounds politicians, making it awkward to approach, simply did not exist. He was genuinely happy to be there.

QMP 2010 - Layton as Speaker by Radey Barrack

I’m mostly at a loss for words, so let me borrow some of yours:

‎”If I have tried to bring anything to federal politics,it is the idea that hope and optimism should be at their heart.” ~ Jack Layton. Thank you, Jack. Thank you for all you have done. – Elamin S. Abdelmahmoud

Jack: when it came to raw courage and unrelenting determination, and at the same time so much decency, nobody could hold a candle to you – Liberal MP Marc Garneau

Jack Layton’s grit and passion during the last election is even more impressive now, realising that he must have know his health was poor. – @Terri_To

Agree with him or not, Jack Layton changed the political landscape in this country through sheer decency. RIP Jack. – Arjun Basu

Jack Layton joins Tommy Douglas as one of the best & wisest Canadians who was never our Prime Minister. – Claire Kerr

Jack Layton was my fave interview in j-school. Even though I was shaking like a leaf he treated me like a serious journalist. Great man. – Shannon Parsons

Sad to hear about @jacklayton this morning. He may not have been my political cup of tea but he was the way a politician should be! – Katryna Deligiannis

Jack Layton would return my phone calls as a university journalism student – even if it was just for class assignments. – Julia Skikavich

Jack Layton DID beat cancer. He was graceful, optimistic and determined right to the end. It did not get the best of him. What a legacy. – Cheryl Santa Maria

Goodnight, Jack. We were lucky to have you.

Layton’s final letter to Canadians:

August 20, 2011 Toronto, Ontario

Jack Layton, MP, Député Toronto – Danforth Leader of the Official Opposition/Chef de l’Opposition officielle Leader, New Democratic Party/Chef, Nouveau Parti démocratique

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

 

 

Other coverage:

The Huffington Post
The Globe & Mail
The Toronto Star

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  • Marc Dunn

    R.I.P. Jack you fought the good fight for every middle class Canadian and we will be forever grateful. 

  • I would write my own post on the death of Jack Layton, but I don’t think it would be as good as this.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, Zach. Means a lot.

  • Great post, Stephanie. I’ve never been sadder about someone I’ve never even met before. Jack has been one of my personal heroes for the last 10 years or so and it’s absolutely shocking and devastating that he has died so shortly after accomplishing so much in the recent election. I hope his memory continues to inspire Canadians to be better politicians and people in general.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, Cassandra. I agree – one of the saddest things about his death is that he’d gotten to this amazing point in his career and isn’t able to continue on. Here’s hoping the party carries on his legacy.

  • Mgh1731

    You could respect Jack without agreeing with him. For that alone he deserves the outpouring that has been generated on this day. This last campaign created the legend that will loom large over the future of the NDP. Jack Layton is likely the only NDP leader that has ever reached Tommy Douglas’ level of adoration among the general Canadian public.

    Even on the right wing of Canadian politics, Layton’s ideological presence was treated with a kind of quiet reverence. His earnestness and authenticity wasn’t questioned. Even if we disagreed, we never doubted that Jack really believed or that his belief was coming from a genuine place.

    To paraphrase Aaron Sorkin – because I find when it comes to politics, he’s usually said it first and best – “Jack Layton need not be enlarged beyond what he was in life; a man, not a monument.” Today, as Canada’s political discourse effectively stops for a brief moment, let us be happy that Jack was as accessible as he was. That he was a man, a “bon Jack”, that we could all feel we knew. We could place Jack Layton up in that pantheon of the immortals, but Jack would say that isn’t really the crowd he represented.

  • This is a beautifully written post. Thanks for sharing it.

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  • Discovered this post a year late but it was still just as moving.

    • Thanks, Margaret! Layton’s legacy is timeless and I’m glad my memories of him are as well.