Sunday, August 28, 2011

The legend of Jack Layton

People outside of Canada will probably not be aware that Jack Layton, leader of the federal New  Democratic Party (social democrats, pro-labor) and since the recent federal election Leader of the Official  Opposition in Parliament, died this week of prostate cancer.

Layton and his NDP made unprecedented gains in  the election, pushing past the Liberals and nearly destroying the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec.  A lot of the credit seemed to go to Layton, who seemed to appeal to those who could stomach neither Harper's Tories, Ignatieff's Liberals nor the separatist BQ.   The NDP oddly ended up, after decades of near-exclusion from Quebec, with most of its seats in that province.

How much could really  be expected of Layton in these circumstances?  Hard to say, given the Tory majority, the  difficulties of any national party in representing both Quebec and the rest of the country, and other factors.  But Layton and his party were not contemptuous of the grass roots, and that quality inspired an outpouring of grief and celebration.  Including a state funeral that was by normal rules not strictly something he was entitled to.    (I think the PM saw which way the wind was blowing and quickly put himself ahead of it.  More striking in some ways is the fact that the CN Tower and Niagara Falls will be lighted up NDP orange for a limited time.  All I can say about this is "!"

Other people besides me have realized that Jack Layton is now legend.  Struck down at his time of greatest triumph, we'll never know what he might have done or how he might have failed.  This, however, will not prevent some of them from answering those questions with great certainty and even in mythic language.

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