Musings —08.22.2011 09:09 AM—
My mom is mine. She is near eighty, and she lives alone in Kingston, Ont., where she is a artist. We talk twice a day – and, during the federal election campaign, I would regularly ask her what she thought about things. One day I asked her who she thought was the winner of the campaign.
“Oh, Jack Layton, dear,” she said, without hesitating. “Stephen Harper will win the government, but Jack Layton has won the election.”
This was before the “Orange Crush” phenomenon had taken hold, you see. Layton was doing well – and he was doing better than Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals – but nobody had yet foreseen that he would become the Leader of the Opposition, winning well over 100 seats, and making history in the process.
But my Mom, my one-person focus group, had decided he was the winner. “To fight through cancer, and to do what he is doing every day leaning on that cane, is just so remarkable,” she said, matter-of-factly. “I admire him very much.”
And so, as it turns out, did the nation. Whether you were a New Democrat or not, whether you were into politics or not, you could not help but be marvelling about Jack Layton’s extraordinary resolve and courage. By campaign’s end, all of us were watching him, trying to understand where he found the strength.
The NDP’s win, as per the popular consensus, was all about Jack Layton. It was all about him.
Nobody knew anything about NDP policy, or even the New Democratic team. None of that mattered. What mattered was this slender, moustachioed former Toronto councillor at the centre of campaign 2011 – the one who everyone liked more (in some cases a lot more) than Harper or Ignatieff.
Likeability, in politics, matters more than anything else. You either have it or you don’t. You can have money, and experienced staff, and all the trappings of modern politics. But if you aren’t likeable, you shouldn’t ever expect to win.
I started liking Jack Layton a few years back. He called me up, and said he wanted to get his hands on one of my books. I assumed it was one of the ones I’d written about politics, and said I would send it to him.
“No, I’ve got that one,” he said. “The one about music, the one about punk rock. I want to read that one.”
I laughed, and so did everyone I told the story to. Jack Layton was an unconventional politician. He made it work for him.
For his 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.
And make no mistake: that democracy has suffered a terrible, terrible loss with the passing of Jack Layton. The country will weep over this.
And, sure enough, when I came in to tell my mother about the news, she cried, too.
God bless you and keep you, Jack Layton. We will miss you, very much.
All of us.