I want to take a moment to write candidly, simply because I felt it was too important to ignore.
I first encountered Jack Layton in the week before the 2008 Federal Election, at a rally in my hometown of Sudbury. I had snuck out of school at lunchtime with my friend Ryan, who had come to Canada two years previous from Connecticut. His exposure to Canadian politics was non-existent, and I wanted to showcase the high path that Canadian politics took. Jack was everything good in politics, and needless to say, we were both impressed by his firm but friendly handshake, the sincerity and confidence in his voice addressing the crowd that day, and hearing the roar of supporters fill the cavern of Science North. I feel this first real experience of the hustings will have forever changed my friend, and the sight of me trying to sneak back into history class with “Strong Leadership” signs in hand will affect others’ views about myself!
My second experience was very different. In the midst of the longest strike in Sudbury’s history, Jack had made the decision to visit the picket line of the Copper Cliff smelting complex. Despite warnings not to go, I was itching to see Jack. I was no longer a political waif, with the foundation of the Pirate Party less than a month previous. I hitched a ride with one of the USW Local 6500 members to the line, and listened as he praised Jack’s down-to-earth manner. When he arrived, I simply watched as this McGill-educated, former Toronto city councilor spoke on the terms of guys from the Nickel City. Mr. Layton channeled the frustrations of those locked out from their jobs in such a way that the energy and the passion he invoked made the anger and the hurt turn into a renewed confidence in their struggle. I had asked him about the New Democrats and their methodology on targeting the copyright industry, and without hesitation Jack discussed his own works and his belief in the accessing of those works. And while I was a Pirate, Jack remained my favourite politician in the nation.
It’s not easy to stay positive in this world, and especially in the field of politics. It seems that the portrayal of society is that of a never-ending approach of doom and gloom, with the political sphere taking more than its fair share of the cynicism and nonchalance from people. But there’s a reason he was known as Smilin’ Jack. His message was consistently positive, never straying far from a deep sense of commitment and ethics. It was never a show, but rather a continuous feeling that if good could prevail in politics, then democracy could live. He was finally rewarded with the trust of the people this past May, but somehow, Stornoway house was never part of the bigger blueprint.
But Jack went out with a bang. Not just in terms of his electoral success, but in his doggedness to finish his job. Cancer and a broken hip were simply bumps in the road for Jack as he pulled off a full campaign, things that would sap the life out of any person. And as he slowed down, his trademark confidence was still there. His message to Canadians? “I’ll return”.
But maybe, just maybe, this is a bigger message to Canada. It’s not too late to follow the example of the guy with the moustache and the orange tie. Follow some easy rules: Put in the work every day, follow through with your promises, fight for every mile, and never forget that you are simply the avenue for the people.
Pirate Party of Canada