Jack Layton: A tribute and a farewell
I feel genuinely sad. I know what you’re thinking- how can you feel sad? Your blog is basically a dirty laundry list of every time Jack Layton was a dick to you. I know. Every interaction I’ve ever had with the man has been negative, but I loved them. They were my favourite stories, and if you’ve ever spent more than 10 minutes with me, I’m sure you’ve heard them all. It seems impossible to think that Jack and I will never meet again. Jack Layton was a hack, a schmuck, and he let his dog poop on a patio once, but he was one of the good ones. He respected the democratic process, he was consistently committed to what he was doing, and I think he really did want to make people’s lives better. Although it was never intentional, he was also so funny. I’m going to miss him. I really am going to miss him terribly.
For a political humour writer, Jack Layton was a wonderful, untainted gift. Bald and moustached, with bright blue twinkling eyes and a cocky strut, Jack Layton was the classic “little man”. Up until only a few months ago, he was the leader of a fourth-place national party. He was an “also ran” who refused to be ignored by the Big Kids in Canadian politics. He was a smart guy though, he knew how to work this position. With nowhere to go but up, he embraced every cause, spoke to every niche issue, and always demanded more – more money, more attention, more sympathy – for the causes that could too easily be ignored. In his mind, he was the people’s hero.
To me, he shifted between drama queen and yappy puppy, repeating the same well-honed reactions, the same political clichés over and over again.
“The Conservatives want THIS!” he would say, “The Liberals expect you to do WHAT?”
It might have been a years-old political wound, but Jack always spoke like the wounds of indignity were smarting for the very first time. But in spite of the hurt, with two words to breathe majesty back into the Canadian political system. “For SHHHAAAAAMMMME!!”
If he wasn’t so anti-violence, he would have shaken his fists.
Every politician loves to be indignant, but Jack Layton had a particular flare for true moral-shaking drama. But after he shook your ethical foundations with the brutality of other parties, he’d always take you in the arms of the NDP for comfort. My favourite part of any debate was watching him turn to the camera, and try to look into the hearts of Canadians with those baby blues.
“You want more” he’d purr, furrowing his brow in concern, “you deserve better.” His moustache twitched. This is how he makes you feel like the only voter in the room.
“You deserve a Government that stands up for people like you, for working Canadian families.” Families and work is where he generally lost me, but I’m sure the intended audience was just warming up.
“There is a third option.” He’d say. “On election day, demand better.”
Then he’d unleash it – the half-smile, embellishing his rosy cheeks, setting the silver moustache on a cheeky slant. “Vote NDP”
Then with his eyes still on you, he’d nod reassuringly. It was the Jack Layton money shot. Every election, every debate, every few minutes and in every official language, he’d return to the formula. Jack Layton had great stamina for this sort of thing.
He was a great player. He loved the game of politics, and he wanted to win, even if it did mean the NDP could lose their innocence in the process. Part of what drove me crazy –crazy angry, crazy happy- about Jack Layton was that he was always “on”. He never shook a hand, or exchanged pleasantries without sizing them up. Where are they from? What makes them angry? What will motivate them to change their vote? I? Was is hackery? Yes. But damn, was he ever good at it.
I’ll never forget the time he made me his camera bitch, and I got to watch him work his 30-second pitch on 50-odd high school students. All he needed was a name and a hometown, and he had his connection. He’d mention your MPs name, fill you in on some nasty deed of his or hers, and pay his sincere condolences that you’d been so poorly represented. Then you got the pamphlet. It was political magic, and his party loved him for it. A lot of people loved Jack. I never got it, but maybe that was my problem, not his.
The Jack Layton I knew was always in the right place at the right time. He loved being seen as one of the people. He loved these “average joe” photo-ops so much, he’d work his political connections as hard as he could to get them. It was this love of photo-ops that kept me out of Gretzky’s during the Gold Medal hockey game. But I forgive him for that political entitlement. I realise now that I value a good Jack story over a fleeting presence on CTV any day. If Jack wasn’t in that bar, we’d have never got that video of him pushing some woman out of his shot, which was possibly the funniest thing I’ve seen in my life. His ego was totally harmless, in fact – it was giving.
One thing I do know about Jack Layton is that while loved the game of politics, he always played it honourably. He courted the press, but he never muzzled them. His wife was not a prop, she was a colleague. He worked like hell for every vote he got, and to this day, he never abused people’s trust in his party. He might have been a career politician, but I think he really wanted to make this country a better place to live.
Jack Layton, I like to think you took your last breath at Stornaway, the home no one thought you’d ever have. When we last met, you were a fourth-place after-thought, a wasted vote to some. You died the Leader of the Opposition. You turned this country’s political environment around, and you’ve made every election a three-horse race.
I don’t believe in heaven, and I would guess that you didn’t either, but today, I’d like to think you’re somewhere awesome. I’d like to think that somewhere, William Lyon Mackenzie King is sitting in a comfy chair, surrounded by his Pats. Somewhere, R.B Bennett and Pierre Trudeau are smoking a bowl and swapping conspiracy theories, while MacDonald fixes everyone a martini with the help of Robert Stanfield. And Jack, I’d like to think that you are in the middle of blustering argument with John Diefenbaker. Two red faces, a two pairs of indignant blue eyes, two sets of unshakable principals, two voices crying out “For SHAAAAAAAAME!!”