The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

RIP, Jack Layton, Federal New Democratic Party Leader

If you haven’t heard, Jack died of cancer.  I only saw him in person once, at a Toronto council meeting back when he was a city councilor, but he impressed me at the time as one of only three councilors who showed decent respect to the citizens giving testimony.  I didn’t know then, and don’t know now, if it was savvy politics, genuine feeling, or both, but it felt like both.

Following politics closely, as I have, I have contempt for the majority of politicians, a contempt most of them have earned.  Jack Layton is one of the few I respected.  This is not because the NDP is the party in Canada whose ideology most closely approximates mine, I’ve had cordial contempt for most of the NDP’s federal leaders during my lifetime, it’s because Jack seemed to combine ability with a genuine calling to help people.  He seemed to want to do the right thing, for the right reasons.  That’s rare enough in everyday life, it’s beyond rare amongst experienced politicians.

Losing Layton is a big blow.  It’s common to say things like “Canada is at a crossroads”, but this really is an era of crisis, and one where countries will be making choices which will determine how prosperous, free and equitable they are for generations.  The current Conservative government is making choices which will cripple Canada economically, destroying much of what was built over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, making us into nothing more than a country which subsists on resources, a position which will leave us very subject to shocks, and as the Conservatives are implementing it, will make us more and more unequal.

The Liberals are not, unfortunately, a credible option.  They, as with most “centrist” parties in the world today, simply want to go to hell on the slow road.  Electing the NDP, then, is our only chance.  They might not do the right things, but they are the only party which would even consider doing the right things.  And Layton was a strong leader and one whom many Canadians genuinely liked.  The nickname “Smiling Jack” started out derisive, but it became a term of affection.

I hope the NDP will elect another strong leader, and one with genuine beliefs he or she intends to put into action if elected Prime Minister.  In the past the NDP has had a tendency to elect weak leaders who are aesthetically pleasing to the party’s constituents.  Neither Canada nor the NDP can afford to make the leader a statement, the leader must be a leader, and must be able to lead the party effectively, both in the next election and as Prime Minister.

If there is an afterlife, I’m sure Jack’s still smiling.  May he smile on all of us.  I don’t normally offer condolences to public figure’s loved ones, but as Olivia Chow was one of the other three councilors in that Toronto council meeting all those years ago who impressed me, I offer her my best wishes.

Jack will be missed.  But the best thing we can do in Jack’s memory is to continue his work, and make sure that the next government is NDP, and that once in government it does the right things.

RIP Jack.  The torch has fallen from your hands, but you led us farther than any of us would have dreamed. It’s up to us now.  You’d say it always was, and be right, but the world is genuinely better for you having lived.  There is no higher praise, and few of your generation of politicians can say the same.

P.S. Layton may be the only Canadian politician in my lifetime who could say something like “Love is better than anger, hope is better than fear”, and have me believe he meant it.  Because he actually lived his life that way and tried to help others live their lives that way.  Honestly, he’s the first public figure who has died in my life where I’m actually sad.


The Next President of the US


Again, the absolute inability to consider obvious solutions


  1. David

    My condolences to the people of Canada and to Jack Layton’s family.

  2. David

    Also any idea who is likely to be the next NDP leader ?

  3. Ian Welsh

    I have no idea, oddly enough.

  4. Rob Grigjanis

    His parting letter was quite moving.

    By the way, who was the third councilor?

  5. Wow, condolences from down south. Did not know much of the man, but from your description, clearly there are not enough of that ilk, there or here in the States.

  6. Ian Welsh

    I don’t remember the name of the third councilor, alas. Female, from the burbs, but can’t recall her name.

  7. Dean Flemming

    Truly a sad time for all Canadians of whatever political philosophy, because all of us should share at least Mr. Layton’s simple humane philosophy of respect for others, dignity and honesty in politics, and optimism in policy (not pollyannism, but rather a belief that we can make a difference and improve things). A conservative political figure who reminds me most of Mr. Layton is Preston Manning, whose idealism and honesty destined him for obscurity.

    It is also a terrifying notice of our mortality: Mr. Layton was a fairly young and apparently healthy man, brought down by that most random of diseases, cancer. God bless you, Jack Layton.

  8. Ian Welsh

    Yeah, I didn’t agree with Manning, but I respected him and liked him. Had forgotten. Would rather have had him as PM than Harper, for sure. (Although, to be fair, I think Harper honestly believes what he says he believes. I just don’t feel basic decency from him.)

  9. someofparts

    My mother said that when Franklin Roosevelt died people wept openly.

  10. beowulf

    “My mother said that when Franklin Roosevelt died people wept openly.”

    On the night he died, a young soldier stood in the silent group which clustered for comfort around the White House where he had lived. The young soldier sighed as I nodded to him and, still looking at the house, he said: “I felt as if I knew him.” (A pause.) “I felt as if he knew me– and I felt as if he liked me.”
    Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew

  11. BC Nurse Prof

    I cried. He had visited our town in B.C. maybe five or six times and I met him here on several occasions. He really was the way he appeared. He really cared. I know that sounds stupid, but he did. At one gathering, I mentioned to him that another prof across the room who teaches at our university had suffered a heart attack a week ago but was here nonetheless. He immediately grabbed me by the arm and said, “Which one is he? Point him out to me.” So I did and he went over and spoke with him for a long time before returning to the stage to take over the auctioneering duties. He did a good job at the auction and people opened their pocketbooks.

    I don’t know who could possibly inspire me again. The only NDP MP who can is Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley), but he’s young and has small kids and I don’t think he has the fire.

  12. alyosha

    …In the past the NDP has had a tendency to elect weak leaders who are aesthetically pleasing to the party’s constituents.

    As I read this, our Dennis Kucinich came to mind. Nice guy, greatly admired in certain circles, but can’t get any traction whatsoever.

    My condolences to everyone up north.

  13. I’ll miss Jack. He really was an ally of us at the bottom. And he had the political and diplomatic instincts to craft good deals with even his opponents. Losing him is a blow to us NDP.
    Was that other councillor Libby Davies, Ian? She was a councillor around the same time as Layton and Chow.
    I will mention someone I’d like to step forward: Charlie Angus.

  14. Jack Layton died just shortly after I returned to my Canadian home having ended my US stay, at least for the time being. I agree; it’s difficult to express what sort of a blow it is when there are so few effective politicians you can say are really on the side of good. He died doing his job.

    Re leadership. No one knows who will succeed him but it will (considering the caucus make-up) have to be someone from Quebec or at least a francophone. Thomas Mulcair is not that popular with the left of the NDP, but it may have to be him. I’d personally prefer Nycole Turmel to stay on, but who knows. The Bloc may take a long time to recover but the NDP cannot afford to let the Liberals return to occupying that space. Still it’s a bit morbid when JL’s death is so fresh, but it’s inevitable that people speculate…

  15. GT Dread

    For those of you in Canada who know more about the situation: This is among the comments from my crazy, conservative, canadian uncle:

    “HE and he freeking wife billed and received $1.16 MILLION in expenses for “serving the people” last year. ”

    Does anyone know what this is about? I need to respond in the worst way but don’t know enough. I saw one article from the Star but it’s not particularly informative.

  16. “Love is better than anger, hope is better than fear”.

    Sen. Paul Wellstone had a similar philosophy.

    Everything in American politics works against that kind of good will. On the Republican side it’s the old Confederate principles, not merely racism but the planter’s contempt for the poor farmer and the military aristocrat’s propensity toward violence as a political method. On the Democratic side it’s identity politics, but also the New Class’s contempt for the rabble.

  17. Rob Grigjanis

    “HE and he freeking wife billed and received $1.16 MILLION in expenses for “serving the people” last year. ”

    That’s slightly above average for MPs in 2009-2010, according to this Star article. Ignatieff was in the same ballpark, but had Stornoway rent-fee. Harper claimed much less, but has the PMO budget and 24 Sussex Drive rent-fee. So, as usual, sound and fury signifying nothing.

  18. Rob Grigjanis


  19. wondering

    My $5 bet for the future of the party:

    Mulcair as leader
    Davies and Tyrmel as deputy leaders.

    Mulcair because he is from Quebec (need to keep the Quebec ridings!), is a solid federalist and speaks excellent English (need to appeal to ROC!), and will be seen as a steady, practical choice now that the NDP has a real chance of forming government in the next election.

  20. Tranquillity Base

    Thomas Mulcair is not that popular with the left of the NDP, but it may have to be him.

    Good god, it never ends, does it? No, “kick the left” is NOT a vote winner, Rahm.

  21. Tranquillity Base

    will be seen as a steady, practical choice now that the NDP has a real chance of forming government in the next election.

    You “third way” worshippers are never, ever, going to acknowledge why the voters tossed the Liberals in the last election, are you? How dare you vultures try to devour Layton’s legacy before our tears are even dry.

  22. Ian Welsh

    If the NDP moves to the center, I will not vote for them, work for them, donate to them, or endorse them. It’s that simple. If they want to be the Libs, fuck’em. I get the need for a Quebec leader, but if he or she isn’t a left-winger, they won’t do the right thing if they get into power.

  23. Mulcair is probably to the left of most federal Liberals. But that doesn’t mean he’s satisfactory, of course. It’s really hard to know. He has a huge starting advantage in that he *was* literally the party’s vanguard in Quebec. Everyone else is a rookie next to him. But he was also a PLQ cabinet minister, which is where the problem with him begins. JL mentioned that he wanted Turmel to stay until the next party convention, but he didn’t leave any further recommendation in his final letter.

  24. Old Wolf

    I’m with Ian on this one. I grew up in Saskatchewan with Tommy Douglas as premier. As Ian will remember from another name and place, my main criticism of Layton was that sometimes I didn’t think he was hard nosed enough.

    I’ll put it in terms of Mouseland (if you aren’t familiar with that story , you should be Since 1867 Canadian mice have elected successive governments consisting of cats. In 2011, we came within 55 seats and probably 200k votes of electing a federal government of mice for the first time in our history.

    I haven’t made it to the late stages of my life to have a triangulating centrist as the last NDP leader I am likely to know. The legacy of Douglas, Lewis, Broadbent and Layton cannot be allowed to end that way.

    The 101 remaining members of the federal NDP caucus may be the greatest threat to the North American plutocracy in decades. They will be under attack collectively and individually for the next 4 years and they are going to need a lot stronger leader than a Romanow or Doer.

  25. What about Paul Dewar?

  26. adrena

    Mulcair has no charisma and is too hot-tempered. I personally hope Jack’s wife Olivia throws her hat into the ring. She is the best person to bring Jack’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations for Canada to fruition.

    Take a look at Stephen Lewis’s amazing eulogy for Jack

    May the progressive heart beat stronger and stronger.

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