Remembering Jack Layton

The sheer number of people lined up for the public viewing of Jack Layton on Parliament Hill Wednesday afternoon was an uplifting sight.  So many people have been touched by his passing and went out of their way to pay respects and sign a book of condolences.  Jack gave everything he had for everyday Canadians and I am glad to see that there is so much respect for him. 

As I left Centre Block, my colleagues and I thanked the people lined up who had come from as far away as China and from all over Canada; the one unifying theme was the connection they felt with Jack.  The viewing went well after midnight Wednesday and forced the House of Commons to open on Thursday morning earlier than expected.  By the time the public viewing ended on Thursday afternoon, thousands of people had come to show their respect.  

Anyone who had an opportunity to meet Jack came away knowing that they had actually been listened to and that his interest in them was genuine.   He was consumed with politics, yet avoided personal attacks choosing to argue issues, not intent.  It is clear that his upbeat and positive message inspired a great many people, who would not otherwise do so, to get out and vote - as was evident by the greater participation of young voters in the past election. 

On Thursday morning, I was deeply moved during a special ceremony in honour of Jack conducted by Anishinabek Nation Elder Gordon Waindubence at the Union of Ontario Indian’s head office.  It was evident that the deep understanding and the commitment Jack had to an honest and open relationship with First Nations developed into strong bonds of respect.  

My offices in Elliot Lake and Kapuskasing and those of other New Democrat across Canada have been extremely busy places as people pay their respect by signing books of condolences.   E-mail accounts are filling up with heart-felt messages of condolences.  These actions and kind messages are touching and appreciated by Jack’s family, my colleagues, our staff, and myself.

As I write this, I am preparing to go to Jack’s funeral and still coming to terms with the loss – mostly on a personal level.  Jack was not just a leader, but a friend as well.  He always made time for me and offered good, honest advice.  He cared and it showed.   

As a leader, Jack transformed the NDP.  He modernized the party structure, practices and policies.  His legacy in many ways is a much stronger party that is truly national and utterly relevant.

As a politician, Jack took brave positions on difficult issues despite warnings from those who did not see things as he did.  In the end, he was always vindicated and respect for him grew to the point that thousands were willing to stand in the rain for the hours-long wait to pay their respects.

During the last election, it seemed that Canadians were just catching up to his unique brand of politics that combined optimism, determination and a belief that, no matter how great Canada is, it can be even better.   Jack showed us that the high road is always the best road. 

Jack was a true Hero; he not only dedicated his life to politics, he dedicated it to the country and those he served and worked alongside.  You didn’t have to agree with him to admire him, but there were more that did both every day.  He will be sorely missed, but we can all take something from his final letter to Canadians as inspiration to take up his goal of an even better Canada.

Jack closed his letter with these words that I would like to leave you with as you consider this remarkable man in the days, months and years ahead:

“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.”