This week, I lost a friend, a teacher, and a hero. On holiday yesterday in England, I
reluctantly checked my email, Facebook, Twitter, dreading the flood of bills and
business correspondence Iʼd ignored for the past week. Instead, I was greeted with the
news of the death of Jack Layton. Blindsided, I simply closed my laptop and hugged my
wife. We have all lost something great. One of the best, in fact.
Although I knew Jack as a dynamic, passionate and sometimes controversial city
councillor, I first got to know Jack Layton well when I began working with The White
Ribbon Campaign to counter violence against women in the 1990s. At the musical
events I was a part of, Jack would stir up the crowd and unite them in their desire to
improve themselves and the world around them. At the posher gala events, he was a
tireless fundraiser, as an auctioneer heʼd coax the patrons with the deepest pockets to
empty them for the cause.
After watching Jack in action, I would whisper to him and to Olivia that he needed to run
for the NDP leadership. When he decided to throw his hat into the ring in 2002, he
invited me to come to their house for the media announcement. We rode around the
block on his and Oliviaʼs tandem bike for a photo op, fitting, as he had been an early
crusader for bike lanes in Toronto. He made sure I wore a helmet.
I continued with Jack to Ottawa for his formal announcement. Both solo and with
Barenaked Ladies, I played concerts for him and the NDP to bring young voters into the
political sphere. None of this was cynical - Jackʼs idealism was real and heartfelt. He
believed that we as Torontonians, and we as Canadians had an opportunity and a
responsibility to work together to make our world a better one for all of us.
Jack was not just ours - he cared deeply about the world, and the tributes pouring in
from all corners attest that the world cared back. He was deeply respected
Jack loved music, and wasnʼt afraid to sing out loud and wasnʼt afraid to dance in front
of a crowd. In fact, he wasnʼt afraid of much. He loved to ride his bicycle with Olivia all
over this country he so loved, and he was a proud and close parent of Mike and Sarah.
My thoughts are with them now.
Jack taught me that idealism is not naïveté, that it is about finding a common set of
values with others, and a path toward realizing their fruition in society.
In the darkest of times, Jack could always find the possibilities of the future and lessons
we could learn from His respect for the true values and history of Canada - the link
between families of all stripes and labour, agriculture and industry, along with his tireless
crusade against poverty, showed us who Jack was, and acted as a mirror for all of us.
At last yearʼs Riverdale Share concert, a neighbourhood holiday fundraiser (Jack was
also my MP in Riverdale-Danforth), I proudly watched as he engaged my fourteen year
old son in a nearly hour-long conversation. He loved people, and nurtured relationships
with them, introducing them to each other. He would then stand back and watch new
networks and alliances grow from the seed he planted.
In my sadness, I want to say Jack is irreplaceable. As a man, he is. As a leader, his
vision cannot simply die with him. He took Canada and the NDP to new heights and
made us all better for it. It is right to feel such sorrow right now, but we cannot despair;
we are a nation schooled by Jack, and we can battle the anger and bitterness and
exclusion that is growing around us with the kindness, love and inclusiveness that Jack
exuded from every pore. Although Iʼd like to say we will not know his like again, I know
that we all must ensure that we do, in fact, know his like again. And soon.
Our sadness is justified, but the tribute that Jack would really want, and truly deserves,
is the growth of what he started in Canada.
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