Tomorrow will mark the one year anniversary of the death of Jack Layton, leader of the NDP and leader of the opposition. The tributes will ring out and New Democrats and other progressives will gather to mourn the loss of their leader and reflect on his life and the year that has followed.
The most notable organization has been the Dear/Cher Jack program by the Broadbent Institute. The website has asked for submissions on how the passing of Mr. Layton has affected their lives and how they have honoured his memory. It is a fitting tribute, and the words of prominent and everyday citizens have been kind reminders of the impact of one extraordinary man.
I think it would be fair to say that since 2011 Canada has been living through an intensely political time: the censure of the Harper government, the election of May 2011, Mr. Layton’s resignation and funeral, a string of provincial elections across Canada, the NDP leadership contest, several contentious federal pieces of legislation – in particular the budget (C-38), the looming Liberal leadership contest and the pains of majority for the Conservatives. In recent weeks we have the provincial election in Quebec and by-elections here in Ontario. Mr. Layton has had an impact on all of these events.
As a historian I sometimes wonder how present events will be described in later histories. It seems to me that the progressive movement has been mobilized in Canada now and is now posing a serious challenge to Liberals and Conservatives. I am not suggesting that the NDP are on their way to permanent majorities as they become the natural governing party of Canada, but the party has been growing provincially and federally and now provide the alternative options for progressive Canadians. Future Canadian political historians will be hard pressed not to credit Jack Layton for this shift.
The Orange Wave in Quebec, assumed by many to be a brief affair, appears to have resulted in a more permanent commitment. Since the selection of Tom Mulcair (NDP – Outremont, QC) to lead the party, the NDP have remained in first in Quebec in the 40% range. More importantly the NDP are now consistently tied with or beating the Conservatives in polls. Within Ontario Andrea Horwath (ONDP – Hamilton Centre) was able to build up her support following their federal counterpart’s success and now hold the balance of power in the provincial legislature. Polling suggests the ONDP is competitive in the Kitchener-Waterloo by-election, which has been long out of reach for the party. In the Atlantic Provinces the NDP is displacing the Liberals more and more as the party of opposition, and polls show conflicting information, but British Columbia could swing dramatically towards the NDP provincially and federally in the next vote.
It is entirely within the realm of possibilities that in 2015 the New Democrats will form government. This reality is only possible because of the remarkable breakthrough that Jack Layton had in Quebec and creating the NDP, not the Liberal party, as the alternative to the Conservatives.
For my part, I can honestly say that Jack Layton is the reason I am a New Democrat. I joined the party in the spring of 2011 and have been increasingly active in politics since that time. I am not sure to what extent Mr. Layton’s message and spirit has motivated my commitment to the NDP, and in politics in general, but I do know that his leadership is what drew me to the orange banner in the first place. The extraordinary convention last March, which I participated in, was a wonderful celebration of Mr. Layton's life and commitment to the vision he presented. In his final letter to Canadians Jack Layton said, “Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly.” I cannot help but feel that this hopeful vision of Canada can be our destiny, if we choose it to be.
I miss our Happy Warrior, and I cannot help but think we are poorer for his absence. Still, we can build upon his legacy and, with any luck, a new generation of Canadians, of all political persuasions, are inspired by his leadership to change Canada for the better.
Here are some links I’d like to share on this anniversary:
One of the more memorable ads from the 2011 NDP Campaign
Rev. Brent Hawkesbeautiful eulogy of Jack Layton at his State Funeral