Tuesday, August 23, 2011

More Layton Links

Another day, another set of commentaries on the life of a great Canadian leader.

- Chantal Hebert notes Layton's contribution to Canada's broader political scene:
(Layton) taught Canada's jaded chattering class that retail politics and the attending appeals to the lowest common populist denominator need not be the only route to victory.

When all is said and done, his greatest gift to the country may have been to restore a measure of humanity to its national politics.
- The Star focuses on Layton's message of hope:
Layton’s final message demands attention. Even without the poignancy that comes from being his last public words, it is a powerful appeal to the best, most optimistic parts of our nature. We live in an age of sadly diminished expectations, especially in public life. It was left to Layton, with only hours to go in his personal journey, to remind us that while Canada is a great country, “we can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice and opportunity.” We don’t need to choose between prosperity and fairness, he wrote. We can – and should – have both.

It was typical of Layton that he was in the political fray up to the very end, not passing on a chance to persuade voters that the way to get all this is to vote NDP. He was a committed, partisan politician at a time of deep cynicism about politics and politicians. But he managed to find the elusive formula that allows some leaders to connect with voters in ways that go beyond the issues of the moment.
- Chris Selley points out Layton's rare combination of principles and pragmatism:
(M)ore than anything else, he believed in Canada — not just in the federalist-vs.-separatist sense, but in that he clearly believed we are a country that can do bold things, things we haven’t done before, if we just decide to do them. To ponder Jack Layton’s absence from Canadian politics is to realize how rare a bird he was: He didn’t insist on the perfect at the expense of the good; he didn’t catastrophize every proposal from his opponents; he fought, unapologetically, for a very different Canada, and he did it with a grin.

Without even bringing policy into the equation, he was pretty much everything you could want in a politician, in an era when Canadians are accustomed to getting nothing they need. It’s tempting to say they broke the mould when they made Jack Layton, but that’s too depressing to contemplate.
- Rick Salutin highlights Layton's work to provide a voice for the powerless:
Jack would surely have called himself a socialist, then and later. But I think it was this kind of battle for justice, especially on larger social issues, that drew him in. He seemed most at home speaking for those who lacked the levers of wealth or power. (The comfortable, of course, have a right to their rights. But they tend to be well-represented in the public realm.) He liked being a kind of tribune for the relatively powerless and voiceless; it meshed with his flare for attention and focus. For this reason I see him more as a man of the left — almost in the sense of the French Revolution — than a classical socialist. By the time he became active in party politics, socialism wasn’t much of an issue anywhere, and it has become less so ever since. Justice is another matter.
His reactions to what I wrote were always positive and generous. I don’t think this was just smart politics, though there’s no point in alienating the press. I think it also sprang from his character: a belief he could help bring people of basic good-will — which includes most humans — together to build a better society. Maybe he even thought there was something he could learn from a little of the negativity he was so averse to in himself.
- Jamey Heath offers up an insider's perspective on the beginning and early years of Layton's NDP leadership.

- And finally, Sandra Martin discusses Layton's three families who will carry on his legacy.

Update: Let's add Edward Keenan's personal take:
I don’t cite my own personal anecdote here because I think those moments were among the most noteworthy in his long and storied career, nor because I think I merit even a footnote in that story. I mention it mostly because I, like a lot of others, have been blindsided by how deeply personal the loss of Jack Layton feels. As someone I know wrote on Twitter, “This isn’t any old sad. This is loss of family sad.” I’m grasping to try to connect the actual physical tears I shed on Bay Street this morning after I was informed of his death by a phone call with something other than political analysis.

I suspect that my personal story is, rather than exceptional, typical. Jack Layton made believers out of cynics, and in that he was exceptional: a hopemonger of the first order before Obama was out of school. You could see that personal connection even in those he hadn’t met personally, in the way the NDP’s surprising support in Quebec was so often summed up by residents saying, “I’m voting for Jack.”

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