Tributes to Jack Layton from BC Admirers

Fond memories and accolades from Carole James, Adrian Dix, Christy Clark, Elizabeth May, and many more.

By Robyn Smith and Carrie Swiggum 23 Aug 2011 |

Robyn Smith is reporting and editing for The Tyee. Carrie Swiggum is completing a practicum.

Carole James remembers those long days of campaigning, alongside friend and leader Jack Layton. How "incredibly hard" he worked, how "full of life."

And at the end of those days, at a pub and surrounded by zonked colleagues, how the inexhaustible Jack was the first one at the pool table.

"Jack was right there, asking, 'Who's ready to play?'" the former leader of the BC NDP remembers, laughing. "It really was extraordinary."

Today, everyone is sharing stories and words of Jack Layton, and grappling with his last words too. "Let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic," he told us, "and we'll change the world."

Here are a few more voices from across B.C., political friends and foes alike, remembering Jack in his best days.

Adrian Dix, leader of the BC NDP:

"I remember him doing an event at Collingwood Neighbourhood House in Vancouver. It wasn't in a high moment; it was Jan. 2009, and there was lots of criticism around the coalition. He came here and spent two hours, answered everybody's questions. I remember people who joined the NDP that night, they were so inspired by Jack.

"It didn't matter whether things were going great or not. He really gave himself. He always had great energy around him. It allowed him to constantly build the party, and build support for his ideas, regardless of how things were going in the bigger picture.

"I knew him for a long time. Obviously he's been an extraordinary leader. We had an event for young people just this weekend, on Saturday, and it was interesting to me how many people at the event had been brought into politics by Jack. That's a lasting legacy for the NDP.

"He's clearly going to be known as one of our great leaders. Tommy Douglas, David Lewis, Ed Broadbent, to name just a few. He brought back for a lot of people the belief that national politics could bring about the change they wanted to see in our country.

"What's true for the NDP on a national level is true for B.C. Jack has raised the party up to really significant heights. We're going to be stronger as a result of his leadership. Truly stronger. It was not just one campaign, but it was his commitment to issues, to people, that will serve us in good stead long into the future."

BC Premier Christy Clark:

"First, to offer my condolences to Olivia Chow and Mr. Layton's family.

"I think many people who heard about it today will think about our own losses in our own families to a disease like cancer. I certainly have lost my own mum to cancer. It's a very, very difficult disease. But Jack Layton bore it with such courage, and he made such a tremendous contribution to this country.

"The thing I love most about Jack, is he was an optimist. He really believed in Canada, and he believed in our ability as Canadians to do great things. To the extent that we've lost that from our national political scene, it's a great, great loss.

"But he made a great contribution while he was here. I think Jack Layton probably contributed more than many of us will in our entire lives. It's sad to lose someone of such stature."

Carole James, NDP MLA, Victoria-Beacon Hill; former leader of the BC NDP:

"It's a big loss for everybody. I feel really fortunate that I got to know Jack as a personal friend, as well as my leader. We both got elected at the same time, in 2003. We both went through a cancer battle, and so we spent time supporting each other, calling each other.

"Jack liked to work incredibly hard. It was never a job to Jack, it was a calling. He was so full of life. I remember a pub event after a long day of campaigning, where there was a pool table in the corner -- Jack was the first one to the table. Everyone else was exhausted! And Jack was right there, asking, 'Who's ready to play?' He played hard as well. It really was extraordinary.

"My other Jack story [is about] after a day of campaigning in B.C. We were getting into a cab after the last event of the day. Most people, they get into the cab and they take a breath. But not Jack. He pulled out his phone list and started phoning candidates, just to check in and see how people were. Here, when nobody would've said anything at taking a couple of minutes to himself. He was spending time keeping his team together, supporting people on the way. That always stuck with me.

"He brought energy, enthusiasm, and passion back to politics for many people. But I also believe this will drive people, to keep Jack's legacy going. Just as he described in his letter, we all have to take on responsibility for making this country a fairer place, a more equitable place. That's the work we have to do now. That'll be Jack's legacy. We can keep his work going, and I think we owe it to him to do that."

John Cummins, leader of the BC Conservatives:

"It is with profound sadness that I hear of the death of Jack Layton. Having sat across the aisle from him until this past March, I was always impressed by his tenacity and his passion for his beliefs.

"His wife Olivia Chow, the rest of the Layton family and his many friends are in our thoughts and prayers during this time of grieving."

Dawn Black, NDP MLA, New Westminster:

"Jack was an incredibly positive force in Canadian politics and the House of Commons. He was a man with endless energy and optimism. He brought his values to every aspect of his life. He brought an incredible sense of joy about him, and a real belief that everything was possible.

"In a personal sense, he shared with me his great elation when his granddaughter Beatrice was born a couple of years ago. And said to me he understood then why I had decided to step down as a Member of Parliament, so I could be closer to home, to my grandchild. He felt a renewed commitment to future generations when his granddaughter was born, and that's what he devoted his life to.

"It's hard for me not to cry. It's a very sad day in Vancouver, and I think the rain reflects I how feel.

"I truly have never known anyone who was such an eternal optimist as Jack Layton. He used to tell us at caucus, 'Don't let them tell you it can't be done, it can be done.' So it's a very sad for me, but a day where I will recommit myself to fighting the good fight."

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs:

"Without question, Jack Layton will be greatly missed.

"Jack, in his tireless quest to advance the issues of social justice, found the time on many occasions to walk with us and offer his unconditional support to the rights and interests of Indigenous Peoples across Canada. For this, we shall be eternally grateful.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jack Layton's wife, Olivia Chow and all members of his bereaved family."

Don Davies, NDP MP, Vancouver-Kingsway:

"Compassion and courage in the face of adversity -- those are very rare qualities. Jack demonstrated not just by words but by actions that respect and dignity can be a part of public life. He was a remarkably inspirational and special person, and I'm going to miss him dearly.

"He treated everyone he met with respect, from the Prime Minister to the person on the street. He dealt with everybody with respect and kindness, and made them feel that they mattered. There are a lot of elected officials in Canada, but there are very few genuine leaders. Real leaders bring people together, they listen to people and they inspire us to be better people. Jack was like that. All those qualities influenced me on a personal level.

"I'm feeling a genuine outpouring, of not only grief but a sense of loss across the political spectrum. That's, I think, an unusual thing in politics. I know people say the formal things, but I really have the sense that people across party lines respected Jack. And that's because he brought this positiveness and optimistic approach to politics that was based on building and proposing, rather than being critical and opposing, which we had to do from time to time.

"He never made things personal, and I think that was very much respected and a breath of fresh air. I can't think of a better legacy for a person who spent their life in public life than that."

Veronica Harrison, co-chair of the BC Young New Democrats:

"The passing of Jack Layton is devastating for all Canadians. He was an inspirational leader for all who worked to make Canada a more fair and just society.

"We have a historic number of NDP MPs and young MPs because of the work that Jack put into the party. He put his trust in youth, and we will continue his legacy in fighting for a better Canada for all of us.

"Today we mourn the loss of a great leader, tomorrow we will get back down to work."

Jenny Kwan, NDP MLA, Vancouver-Mount Pleasant:

"When we last saw Jack on TV where he made the announcement that he was stepping down temporarily as leader of the NDP, we were all shocked, and hoped for the very best. We thought if anybody could beat the fight against cancer, it was going to be Jack.

"I remember eight years ago when Jack called. He was seeking the leadership of the federal NDP and asked for my support and help. I readily agreed, and jumped right into it. I remember at the time we were sitting in the legislature, myself and Joy MacPhail, and I would do my work during the day as the MLA representing our community here. Then, in the middle of the night, I'd be on the computer working furiously, pulling stuff together and communicating with people back east, so that we could pull together a campaign to support him in the leadership bid.

"I've had the pleasure of having him stay at my house as he campaigned through, and I just remember him to be this incredible human being with so much energy, so much optimism, so much hope. He would talk endlessly about his vision, and what his hopes and dreams are for Canadians as a whole. Not just something for him, but rather for us as society as a whole.

"That's what I'll always remember Jack to be -- that lightning rod that struck at our hearts, that brought closeness to all of us, that gave us the sense of hope and optimism for the future that we can do better, and that we must do better."

Libby Davies, NDP MP, Vancouver East

"I've known him for 30-plus years. He was a city councillor in Toronto, and I was a city councillor in Vancouver in the 80s. We worked together on many issues -- we've had a long friendship. So he's more than a colleague and a leader to me, he's a very good friend. I'm struggling with it like everybody else.

"I remember walking with him in Toronto -- I've stayed at his place many times, he's stayed at my place -- but I remember walking with him from Lewis Street down to College, sort of through the university area, and he described every building to me. He knew what upgrades they'd gone through, what environmental changes had taken place. How that little park happened, where that park bench came from. He was so invested in his city and very proud of Toronto, because he was one of the city councillors that shaped it. I think that he has the same kind of pride about Toronto that I've always felt for Vancouver.

"I remember another time that he was in Vancouver, it was just before Pride Parade and he and Olivia were staying over, and we had a big raccoon problem in the garden. And at two in the morning, we're all out there trying to deal with and chase raccoons, a very East Vancouver problem, right? So it was quite funny. And then we all went to the Pride Parade the next day. I'll always remember that.

"We can't replace Jack as a person, but we can continue his work. There's a real solidarity in the caucus. We return to Parliament on the 19th and we're going to face down a Conservative government, and I know that Jack would want us to be a very principled and tough opposition. We've already had a small taste of that with the short session we had after the election, but when we go back in September, we're going to be in for a Conservative agenda that's going to unfold very rapidly. So I know we're all going to be focused on that, and working very hard. Like I say, a principled and tough opposition.

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada:

"I am deeply saddened by the untimely death of Jack Layton. Collectively, Canadian hearts are breaking.

"Jack will always be remembered for his unfailing love of Canada and his dedication to this country and its citizens."

The BC Federation of Labour:

"We join with millions of Canadians across Canada to mourn the loss of a leader that inspired people in a time of cynicism, who believed in a Canada that could be better for everyone, who displayed personal and political courage on a daily basis.

"It was under his leadership that the New Democratic Party once again became a political force on the federal political landscape. This was doubly true in British Columbia, where Jack inherited a party with only two seats and struggling to remain relevant. Jack visited B.C. numerous times, both during elections and at many other times as well, encouraging people to run for the party, inspiring people to volunteer and rebuild the belief in winning again.

"Jim Sinclair, president of the BC Federation of Labour, responded to the sad news by saying, 'Jack leaves a legacy that is a challenge for all of us who believe, as he did, that Canada needed to be the best country in the world, to the benefit of all Canadians, not just a few.'"

Emily-Anne Paul, NDP regional campaign organizer, 2011 federal election:

"I did have a chance to say that I was proud of what he was doing. Part of it was the sense of hope that he inspired. That sounds corny, but even being around him and being in his presence, he was so in command of what he was doing and the vision that he had for Canada. It was a vision that involved absolutely everyone, young and old people, and it was really genuine.

"He was so committed to making the Canada that he believed in, the Canada that the NDP stands for. That alone is incredibly inspiring. I feel so fortunate to have had the chance to work in this past election, because it was so full of passion and honesty. It wasn't about playing dirty, it was about standing for what you believe in.

"I think there's a renewed optimism within the NDP. I really do feel it is a national movement, and that people do believe in change and standing up for what they believe in Canada, and I think he laid the groundwork for that. I do think people realize how much of a difference he made and how far the NDP has come, and I think that will continue on."

David Eby, director, BC Civil Liberties Association:

"One of my favourite Jack Layton memories was him speaking to a group of NDP faithful in Halifax when I was in first-year law, fall of 2002. As a committed human rights activist, I'd grown suspicious and skeptical about the ability of politicians to address issues that mattered, but was willing to give the NDP a shot.

"Layton was amazing. He was a dynamic speaker, and spoke frankly about the environment, human rights, social rights and Canada's place in the world. He was inspiring, and he continues to fill that role for me and so many Canadians even today, even more so after a courageous battle with cancer.

"Thank you, Jack Layton, for your work for all Canadians."  [Tyee]

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