Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Jack Layton left a gift for Canadians
by Ish Theilheimer
Straight Goods News - August 23, 2011
Remarkable leader had a zeal for getting things done, not just winning: Ed Broadbent.
Re-printed here by kind permission of
Straight Goods News.
Jack Layton's death Monday morning (August 22) shocked all Canadians into an outpouring of commentary, various views on celebrating (or at least assessing) his life and accomplishments. The man's remarkable achievement in leading the NDP to Official Opposition status after years in the political wilderness — while fighting cancer — is the stuff of Canadian legends.
When most people die of cancer, they spend their final days managing pain, dealing with nurses, sleeping, and saying goodbye. Jack Layton used his dying days to craft words that will become the credo for his party and, potentially, some sort of new movement.
He emerged triumphant with a positive political agenda in the midst of the Liberal - Conservative negative ad battle.
"My friends, love is better than anger," he wrote. "Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world." Never have progressives — and all Canadians — had more stirring or resonant words by which to live.
Straight Goods News contacted former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, one of Layton's biggest and most influential boosters in the party's 2003 leadership race. Although they had barely known each other previously, Broadbent did considerable research on Layton and liked what he saw.
"He had lots of zip and incredible amounts of energy, and he was accomplished in doing things on Toronto council of a practical nature — solid progressive things, like low income housing, a dental plan he sponsored for municipal employees, social rights issues, gay rights. But what struck me was his zeal in getting things done, not just winning a debate but achieving things."
Broadbent wanted a party leader with that sort of winning approach. Layton's work with other municipal leaders through the Canadian Federation of Municipalities particularly impressed him. "He got major resolutions through working with mayors from across the country, Liberals and Tories," Broadbent recalled. "The NDP needed someone with the a capacity for concrete accomplishments."
Working with political opponents, Broadbent says, is more common in Europe. Here, "Compromise is seen as a pejorative term," — but it wasn't by Layton, who made deal-making a hallmark of his tenure as leader.
From the outset as leader, he showed he could get things done no matter who he had to work with. In 2005, he forced then-Prime Minister Paul Martin to accept a federal budget that increased social spending massively and cancelled proposed corporate tax cuts.
"The key point was that Jack wasn't content to vote non-confidence, and play obstructive politics," said Broadbent. Instead, "He got this major add-on, perhaps his best single illustration of his pragmatic approach to implementing social democracy one piece at a time."
Later in the year, however, Layton failed to get Martin to accept a ban on private health care in Canada in return for continued support. Martin's, refusal was costly, leading to the 2006 election where Stephen Harper became Prime Minister, with a minority government.
Broadbent, while appreciative of the media coverage of Layton's death, feels much of the English-language coverage of this year's political miracle misses a key point.
"Most of the media are leaving out the substance of what he was optimistic about, which was his social democratic vision," said Broadbent. "It's preposterous to think all those Quebeckers voted for Jack because he had a positive disposition. His personality did make a difference in terms of opening doors, but my own view is the door would have shut pretty quickly if all those people in Quebec hadn't liked what they saw."
Part of the media's oversight is a failure to understand Quebec, says Broadbent. It wasn't that "a heterogeneous group" of Quebec voters were attracted to Layton's personality, but rather, it was supporters of the Bloc Québécois who shared the values Layton laid out so eloquently.
Missing this point "does a great disservice to Jack," says Broadbent. He points to an allusion to this in Layton's open letter, in which he says the NDP's "...cause is much bigger than any one leader."
Broadbent greatly appreciated Layton's openness to ideas and debate and his lack of defensiveness. "He had a totally comfortable relationship between the leader and the former leader, which is not always the case." The two had regular get-togethers which were "always harmonious," and a standing rule not to get upset about disagreements.
Layton's remarkable campaign this year, Broadbent said, was the culmination of many years of work, rather than representing some sort of new approach.
"I don't think he changed in it — with one important qualifier, mentioned by many people. Early in the campaign his cane was seen by staff people and a number of journalists as indicating fragility and weakness, but he turned that around and it became a symbol of Jack's positive approach to life. He seemed to acquire more energy as time went on and, despite what those close to him knew was constant pain" The pain never showed.
"The cane itself, instead of representing a weakness that no leader likes, it was a symbol of hope and determination and ultimately success. He emerged triumphant with a positive political agenda at the very time when Liberals and Conservatives were running negative ads on each other."
"It was inspiring," said Broadbent. "The core values of Jack didn't change. Nor did his core approach. He became more relaxed. I went through that as a leader. Over time Jack improved, but by the time this campaign started, I think he was at the peak of his capacity." Even prior to the campaign, Layton, he says, had already demonstrated "a higher degree of civility" than the other leaders. "I don't think he changed, I think he peaked."
Over time the world will learn more about Jack Layton's last days and weeks and months. Already, we know that two days before he died, he held a four-hour meeting with his top advisors to plan next steps. His chief of staff Anne McGrath told The Toronto Star that he was sharp, focussed, and, at times "challenging" to his colleagues.
Broadbent spoke with him only by phone in the later weeks. Only in their last conversation did they talk "briefly" about his health. "He told me he was fighting it," and, even a week before he died, "He was trying to reassure me." But Broadbent could tell "He had ceased to really believe he was going to win this battle — not that he gave up but there was a weakness and a hesitation in his voice."
Now he is gone and Canadians are left to ask themselves, "What would Jack say? What would Jack do? What would he think of this situation?"
We will all be better off if we ask what love and courage and optimism require of us in order that we might change the world for the better. Thank you, Jack Layton.
Ish Theilheimer is founder and president of Straight Goods News and has been Publisher of the leading, and oldest, independent Canadian online newsmagazine, StraightGoods.ca, since September 1999. He is also Managing Editor of PublicValues.ca. He lives wth his wife Kathy in Golden Lake, ON, in the Ottawa Valley. firstname.lastname@example.org
Source is HERE.
What I do know is, Jack would have never allowed Canada's name to be dirtied. He would have never treated his people like dirt, as Harper does. Never would Jack have, made a deal with the devil, nor send that devil to England, as High Commissioner.
Canada would have been safe with Jack. I fear very badly fear, for our country with Jack gone. He was our anchor and our hope, to save Canada.
However, We know Jack passed his wisdom on, to his party members. They believed in Jack. We must believe in them. That's what Jack would have wanted from Canadians.
Right now the NDP members are grieving, and have to try and get over that grief, as do we all. When their sorrow has been dealt with, as much as they can...They will get to work.
I grieve for Olivia and the family too. I think the world of Olivia too. She and Jack were a wonderful, loving couple.
Thanks for this piece.I find it rather sad that these words are spoken now about this man and not while he could be here to hear them.
I think only now though is the country realizing what a capacity he had and what truly this man was about.
Too bad for us we are slow to learn and Jack couldn't wait for us to catch up.
In my view he was the rare one the one not paid much attention to but the only one worth paying attention to if you know what I mean. Like Jimmy Hendrix or Bob Dylan to music, Jack was a class above the rest.