Perhaps I might be the wrong person to eulogize Jack Layton. Ideologically I never really agreed with him. I opposed many of his policies, and there was a lot I criticized about him and his party.
In the last election, as he took the New Democrats to new heights, I voted for the Conservatives. He was a social democrat, I consider myself to be center-right. He was apparently a Habs fan, I cheer for the Leafs. We were not polar opposites, but I will not hesitate to say that he would never have been my choice for Prime Minister.
But perhaps this difference in our views makes me the perfect candidate to eulogize him. I’ve always believed the true measure of a man’s legacy is not how he is remembered by his supporters, but rather by his opponents. Praise from one’s friends is kind words, but praise from one’s detractors is the mark of respect. And if there is one thing Jack Layton deserves in his death, it is respect.
He seemed at all times that rarest of gems in politics, a genuine true believer. For thirty years he never gave up on his party, even when they were the loveable losers on the fringes of Parliament. For thirty years he fought for his ideals, his passions and his belief that he could make Canada better. Love him or hate him, you can’t help but be inspired by his idealism and love for his country.
He leaves behind quite a legacy. He brought the New Democratic Party to unthinkable heights. He challenged the left, the right and everyone in between—he may well have changed Canadian politics as we know it. He says he took inspiration from the youth of Canada, but in reality his passion inspired people half his age. That his death comes just after his greatest triumph makes it all the more sad, and no matter who comes forth after, the NDP will not be the same without him.
To me, however, Jack Layton’s legacy will always be grounded in our country’s reaction to his death. A wise person once wrote that true democracy is about more than elections or freedoms. It is rooted in the ability of each side to recognize the other, regardless of the chasm of difference between them, as equal, and above all as human.
In the wake of his death, the reaction from all sides was deafening. It was more than just dry speeches and sound bites. You could feel it from every person. It was unmistakable grief — the grief of having lost a leader, an opponent, and above all, a remarkable man. That all of Canada wept for him is a testament to our empathy, our respect for one another, and our democracy.
Jack Layton fought his entire political career for his ideals of democracy. I think he would be proud today.