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Jack Layton: Triumph and Tragedy

Canadians were right. He was the real thing, committed to making their lives better.

By Bill Tieleman 23 Aug 2011 |

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at or visit his blog.

"It's that simple. In order to have the Canada you want, you have to vote for the Canada you want." -- Jack Layton

It seems appropriate that the first day of rain in weeks of dry, sunny weather in Vancouver came at the same time we learned of Jack Layton's sad passing.

Layton's death at 61 from cancer is a personal tragedy -- but his departure as the first New Democratic Party leader of the official opposition in Canadian history is a tragedy for the whole country.

Tragedy following triumph is always the hardest to accept.

I first met Jack in Toronto in the 1980s, when he was a young city councillor. Jack immediately impressed me as he did everyone on first meeting -- with his incredible energy.

It was seemingly boundless, limitless and harnessed for his fundamental cause -- social justice.

That never changed.

Layton fought unfairness throughout his entire career. The issues were many and varied: homelessness, discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation, violence against women, poverty, union rights, the environment, Canadian sovereignty and unity.

And that was by his own choice. The son of former federal Conservative cabinet minister Robert Layton, Jack could have chosen a different, easier life, but his commitment to bringing change to Canada on so many important issues demanded a career in social democratic politics.

This year's election saw Jack at the very top of his game -- connecting seemingly effortlessly with ordinary Canadians and their concerns.

But that ability was developed through 30 years of political activism, knocking on doors, attending meetings in church basements and union halls, listening to people's hopes and fears, responding to their concerns with a plan of action.

A toast to Jack

Jack was a professor of political science before becoming a politician but never came across as an academic.

Layton's constant personal popularity rating in polls showed that he was the leader Canadians would most want to have a drink with in the pub.

I've had that drink with Jack Layton a few times and Canadians were right -- he was the real thing -- a politician who cared more than anything else about the people who elected him to represent them.

Nothing speaks more to his dedication and commitment to democracy than that.

Cancer claimed Jack Layton's life but never his spirit.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics

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