On August 22, 2011, Canada was shocked and saddened by the news of Jack Layton’s death. After suffering from prostate cancer in 2010, hip surgery during the federal election earlier this year and most recently an undisclosed form of cancer this summer, the leader of the official Opposition lost his battle early in the morning, surrounded by family.
For many, this news was not unexpected but was still deeply saddening. After his public announcement in July regarding his leave of absence, Canada was taken aback by Layton’s raspy voice and gaunt appearance.
As an avid fan of Layton, a dedicated NDP voter and a political studies student, this news deeply affected me. I woke on the morning of his death to five text messages from friends sharing the news. Desperately hoping that my favourite leader was still alive, I immediately opened my computer, only to be blinded by articles on Layton’s death on every news site.
Growing up my family had always promoted political discussion. Once I turned 18, my parents encouraged me to research each political party and their leader to make an informed vote. With my passion for the poor and for equal rights, I knew that Jack Layton was someone I had to support.
Every year since I was old enough to vote, I have made the strategic choice to cast my ballot for the NDP party, purely to provide support for Layton; his stance on gay rights, immigration, health care and affordable housing were all aspects of his platform that convinced me to join the orange side.
The most recent federal election demonstrated Layton’s ability to gather young people around the country in a hope-based campaign. He founded his campaign around honesty, integrity and passion. One of the most integral points of his campaign was during the leader’s debate. I will always remember watching him speak passionately and articulately — I remember being shaken and moved, knowing that I was watching a leader who truly cared about Canadian citizens; he wanted to rid our government of scandal and lies. He wanted to make life easier for ordinary families across the country. He wanted to enable the government and the citizens to look after everyone in Canada. And, as he so often said, he wanted to make sure that “no one is left behind.”
Layton believed in the positive things in life. He believed in optimism. In a political arena that was full of lies, dishonour and ruthless competition, he shone a light of integrity. One of my favourite quotes about Layton came from a reader’s comment left on a Globe and Mail online article announcing his death. It read, simply, “You kept them honest.”
It’s easy now to be pessimistic and doubtful about the future of the official Opposition. Many Canadians likely cast their ballot for the NDP because of Layton’s unpretentious and charismatic approach to politics, and in turn, they elected many new politicians to Parliament. Without his leadership, it is tempting to believe that the rookie MPs of the NDP will stumble and fall. But it is during this time of despair and uncertainty that we must hold onto the hope that Layton left us with. We must believe in his platform, his wisdom and the confidence he had in his party. We must fight to bring about the change in our country that he so desperately anticipated.
His letter to Canadians emulated the core of Jack Layton — hope and optimism. In this letter he relays the belief he had in his party and his young MPs. His words towards the youth of Canada can be an inspiration to us and to all New Democrats in Canada. “I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice is exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.”
Layton left this world with the idea that we can make life better for everyone. He left a legacy that our country must strive to follow. His last words are inspirational to change Canada for the better and are words that the entire world would be wise to follow.
“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”
Rachel Wood is a volunteer contributor to the Manitoban.