For the lucky politicians, their deaths arrive at a convenient time. The end comes after a life time of achievements, setbacks, triumphs, failures, perhaps some scandals, election campaigns and possibly a few testimonial dinners here and there.
In other words, their final days are as they should be; sad, profound, mournful, yet basically on schedule.
Not so for Canada’s Jack Layton.
Mr. Layton passed away on August 22nd of this year, and virtually an entire nation stopped to honour his life and career.
Because, more than anything, Mr. Layton’s death couldn’t have come at a more inopportune moment. Only 61 at the time of his death, Mr. Layton had, only weeks before, reached the pinnacle of his political career.
Jack Layton was the national leader of Canada’s left-leaning New Democratic Party, and to many Canadians he was “ un bon Jack”, a hard working kind of guy who stood up for the little guy and could have become Canada’s next Prime Minister.
Mr. Layton was born and raised in Montreal, later moved to Toronto and became involved in civic politics. For years he was a member of Toronto’s city council, and in 2003 took over the leadership of the federal New Democratic Party. At that time, the party had only 13 seats in Canada’s House of Commons, and most voters figured the party was irrelevant at best, and definitely on its way out.
That’s not they way Jack Layton saw things. He figured his party’s platform planks of social justice, universal health care, public pensions, teamwork and solidarity would eventually swing more voters to re-think their support for the more ideologically intransigent parties on the Canadian political scene, and cause them to eventually decide to vote NDP.
He was right.
The Canadian federal election in May of this year resulted in a total re-alignment of the Canadian political picture. The vehemently separatist Bloc Quebec outfit from the province of Quebec was darn near eliminated, and the federal Liberal Party fell so low that their leader was forced to resign. Sure, the Conservative Party won a majority, but the New Democratic Party, for the first time in its history, gained the title of the official Opposition, which means its main job is to challenge the governing party of the day at every turn.
On the score sheet, the NDP notched 103 seats, with 59 of them coming from Quebec.
Sadly, Mr. Layton didn’t live long enough to take his seat in the House of Commons as the Opposition leader.
He announced in February of 2010 that he had prostate cancer, then another form of cancer returned with a vengeance during this spring’s election campaign, and it claimed him on the 22nd of August.
From there, the legend of Jack Layton grew and grew. A state funeral was announced. Mourners from across the country made their way to both Ottawa and Toronto for official ceremonies.
And tributes to the man voted the politician “ most Canadians would like to share a beer with” came in from everywhere and everyone.
A reader of a popular Canadian national newspaper wrote, “ Goodbye Jack. From someone who can never vote for your party, but nevertheless respected you, and secretly wished you ran for a different party.”
Another published tribute read like this: “As an immigrant to Canada, which I think is by far the best country in the world to live in, I truly embrace the open, tolerant and compassionate vision that Jack Layton stood for.”
In his final words to Canada, Jack Layton wrote: “ 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.”
Across the country, Jack Layton’s many supporters have pledged to ensure his vision for Canada becomes a reality. He would be pleased.