On August 22, 2011, Jack Layton, leader of the NDP and official Opposition, died after a long battle with cancer. Following his death, there was a tremendous outpouring of grief across Canada, coast to coast. Alongside countless other tributes, both the CN Tower and Niagara Falls donned an orange hue to commemorate Layton. What was perhaps even more astonishing than the magnitude of this grief was its ability to transcend party lines. Despite political differences, people of all stripes and colours came together to mourn the passing of this well-respected political leader.
Carlos Sosa, a longtime NDP supporter and friend of Layton’s, recently shared with the Manitoban his thoughts on the passing of Layton, a man he called “a really good person to everybody.”
It was in 2002 that Sosa says he first met Layton. Sosa was charged with organizing an event here in Winnipeg to support Layton’s run for NDP leadership. He says since that time the two men kept in contact.
Sosa says he announced his support for Layton as NDP leader at a time when many other in Manitoba were putting their support behind Bill Blaikie, who at that time was the MP for Elmwood-Transcona.
“I thought that he was positive, optimistic and he offered that fresh perspective, and I think that is why people liked him,” says Sosa of Layton. “I supported him at first because he was that fresh new voice, that fresh new perspective. He certainly touched me back in 2002.”
Sosa was taken aback by the overwhelming outpour of grief that followed Layton’s death last month.
“I think that his death has brought people closer together. They realize that we have to continue on,” says Sosa, “that the party has to continue on and that he left a legacy, and people in the party realize that they have to continue that legacy.”
In Sosa’s opinion, Layton’s legacy is based largely on the 103 seats his party won on election day — the day the NDP made history by becoming official Opposition for the first time.
“His legacy was always about working together as opposed to not working with people who disagree with you,” says Sosa, adding that another important part of Layton’s legacy was his positive outlook, a word he used often to describe the political leader.
“I felt that was one thing that people liked, that he was positive and optimistic,” says Sosa, “and that he wasn’t about playing the old game of attack, attack, attack. He brought civility to political life in Canada.”
“He wouldn’t look back; he would always be looking forward. I think about the phrase ‘don’t let them tell you that it can’t be done,’ that was a phrase he used over and over and over again.”
Sosa said it was a combination of both this positive outlook and forward perspective that made Layton liked by so many people.
“I don’t think a lot of politicians had brought that forward positive perspective,” says Sosa. “People were looking for something else and I think Jack provided that something else, [ . . . ] something new, and I think Jack was that person.”
When asked about the private and public Layton, Sosa says they are one in the same.
“The one you saw in public was the same you saw in private. Our relationship [ . . . ] was not just politics, it was personal. He was very warm, kind and caring. Anytime he would see me he would give me a hug. He was very personable.”
Sosa recalled a flight back in 2009 between Halifax and Toronto where he and Layton were on the same plane.
“I asked him where he was sitting. He said he normally sits in economy, but they moved him up to executive class. He said he would switch with one of his people.”
Sosa says after this brief conversation Layton called him back over.
“And he offered it to me.”
After Layton’s death, his family released what would be his final letter to Canadians.
“I think about that ‘love not fear’ quote,” says Sosa. “I think that his way of saying that we have to move on and we have to be positive and optimistic about our world, and that was can all make a difference. It was a very moving letter, and I think a lot of Canadians responded in that way.”
Rest in peace, le bon Jack.