RIP Jack Layton: His Death Is Only The Beginning

by matttbastard

In the end, we should have known it was fanciful, even selfish, to expect Jack Layton to make it back to Parliament in the Fall.

The man who, weeks ago, stood before a stunned nation to announce he was stepping aside (temporarily, it was insisted)  to once again battle cancer, gaunt and wholly drained of the vigour that defined his upbeat, energetic campaign style, was not the same one who, just one short month prior, had almost single-handedly carried the NDP to its best electoral finish in party history.

This was someone who, if not at Death’s door, was certainly on its footpath.

But before Jack the Fighter became Jack the Martyr, he was Le Bon Jack, the man who, in the words of CP’s John Ward, “slew the Bloc Quebecois and saw the long-dominant Liberal party reduced to a battered hulk” while simultaneously bringing his once-terminal, perpetually-marginalized democratic socialist party into the national mainstream (and, in the process, welcomed Quebec back to the Federal scene after nearly two full decades in the political wilderness). As  James Laxer rightly notes, “When [Layton became NDP leader, he took a party that had seen better days and led it to become a force that can win the next election. His breakthrough in Quebec is historic, a transformative event in Canada’s political history. “

Over the next several days we’re going to be buffeted by many heartfelt tributes to Layton and his legacy. Conversely, we’ll no doubt witness insincere remembrances from those who, quite frankly, despised the man and his pragmatically progressive politics, but cynically know it bodes well to avoid speaking ill of the revered dead. We’re also going to see an increasingly histrionic debate over what to do about iterim leader Nycole Turmel, the party’s newly-minted Quebec rump, and its overall future.

And though Dippers and progressives deserve time to grieve (and Layton is indeed worthy of memorializing) we mustn’t shy away from these contentious issues, lest the momentum that propelled the NDP to historic gains is further halted as the party tries to reorient itself in anticipation of the post-Layton era.

Just to help kick off the frenzy of posthumous speculation re: What Happens Next, here’s a brief excerpt from Warren Kinsella’s latest Sun Maida [sic] column:

For [Jack Layton's] NDP – because it was his NDP – sad and bad times lay ahead. There is no possibility, none, that they can ever expect to maintain what they achieved with Jack Layton Nor can the party’s blasé dismissal of a union with the Liberals be allowed to remain unchallenged. Our democracy will suffer if the Harper government is not facing an effective Opposition. All of us – Stephen Harper included – need the NDP and the Liberals to consider the gravity of the moment, and abandon their pride and hubris. Now, more than ever, progressives need to come together for the good of Canadian democracy.

Whatever your feelings on uniting the Canadian left (and let it be clear, I lean towards Kinsella’s position that only a strong, united centre-left opposition can ever hope to topple the Harpercons), one thing is undeniable: Jack Layton quite literally died to get the NDP — and the Canadian progressive centre-left — to this point; now it’s up to progressive activists, regardless of party affiliation, to continue the fight that ultimately took his life.

Update: And as if anticipating renewed calls to reopen the unification debate following his passing, here’s Layton, from his already-legendary final letter:

 There will be those who will try to persuade [NDP members] to give up our cause. But that cause is much bigger than any one leader. Answer them by recommitting with energy and determination to our work. Remember our proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions and making sure no one is left behind. Let’s continue to move forward. Let’s demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.

So, at least we know what Jack wanted (which doesn’t necessarily make it right, but…).

Something kinda like this:

So, let’s do it.

Layton photo: mattjiggins, flickr

Sidewalk photo: Paul Dewar, Yfrog