Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saturday Morning Jack Layton Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Adam Radwanski astutely recognizes that the outpouring of sympathy and grief following Jack Layton's death speaks to the gap between what most political parties limit themselves to pursuing, and what many people actually want from their leaders:
All the available information, the numbers and research and chatter, tells us that we care less and less about them. That we don’t trust them. That they are generally considered among the lowest forms of human life.

Then one of them dies, and we go into a state of national mourning.

A cynic would say that we only love our politicians when they’re gone – and even then, only when they’ve left us in heartbreaking and terrifying ways that remind us of human frailties. But in the spirit of optimism, which seems fitting given Jack Layton’s much-quoted final words, it’s possible to see something else in his posthumous status as a hero. Perhaps we’re not really so inclined to look down on our politicians; perhaps we’re eager to look up to them, to like and occasionally even love them, if only they’ll give us the chance.
(T)he people who gathered en masse this week to say goodbye – not just in Ottawa and his hometown of Toronto, but in Vancouver and Edmonton and Montreal as well – didn’t seem to be thinking just of how Mr. Layton left them. They seemed also to be thankful for the traits that preceded his illness – the evident compassion for people, the relentless work ethic, the eagerness to work with others, the unshakable optimism, and the fact that he rarely seemed to be putting on any kind of act.

While it may have taken his death to bring all these attributes into sharper focus (and to cause some of his more grating characteristics, including his penchant for self-promotion, to be overlooked), the fact that he consistently polled as the most personally popular of the federal leaders suggests that at some level they always resonated. And what stands out, when you stop and think about it, is how unremarkable these supposedly remarkable qualities were – how little they went beyond what should be expected of the men and women who enter public life.
The optimists among us might wonder if, long after Mr. Layton has been laid to rest, politicians and the people who elect them might keep what happened this week in the backs of their minds. It needn’t be a relationship of unquestioning loyalty and admiration; far from it. But it’s not too late to save it from perpetual mistrust and resentment. If both sides are willing to treat politics like a noble calling, it just might become one again.
- Joan Bryden and Derrick O'Keefe both note that Layton himself made the decision to ensure that his death had some positive political repercussions. And I'd see another opportunity for reflection on our broader views of politics in that choice: can Layton's example inspire Canadians generally to see politics as something sufficiently important to be worth discussing, rather than a topic unfit for polite company?

- Meanwhile, Chantal Hebert theorizes that Layton's long-term political legacy will be his ability to bridge Canada's two solitudes.

- Finally, Gerald Caplan highlights the gap between the Canada Layton inspired to build, and the one the Cons are digging us into:
What a Canada he wanted us to become – a dominion of love and hope, of justice and equity, of inclusiveness and tolerance, of fairness and peace. On every issue he was on the side of the little guy, the underdog, and they knew they could always count on him.

Our bon Jack, un vrai mensch.

But today’s Canada does not seem to be living up to Jack’s expectations. It may well be moving in the opposite direction in a Stephen Harper-led culture war committed to “conservative” values that put individual self-interest ahead of community, divisive politics ahead of the common good, and the whims of charity ahead of the commitment to solidarity.
Update: Let's add Tabatha Southey's latest:
These stories make more than a persona. They make a man. All of which is to say I was mistaken: Jack Layton was not an archetypal politician. He was more passionate, compassionate, shrewder, tougher and smarter than most. But – such is the curse of familiarity – years of accumulated evidence brought me to that conclusion with a thud only when I read of his death.

I'd taken it for granted that whether or not I believed he could realize it or applauded all the methods he used attempting to achieve it, Jack Layton would always be there, articulating, more often than not, my vision of what it meant to be just and Canadian.
[Edit: Fixed links.]


  1. Idealistic Pragmatist8:45 a.m.

    The Southey link points to an O'Keefe piece.

  2. jurist9:35 a.m.

    Fixed - thanks for the heads-up.

  3. Alison1:35 p.m.

    Thanks, Greg. Excellent links for the day.