Gabriel Yiu: Farewell to our dear Jack Layton
In the Canadian political arena today, there is no one whose passing would bring such a magnitude of sadness and sorrow to Canadians as that of Jack Layton.
Jack was the brightest star in that arena before the end of his life. In the recent federal election, he demonstrated his talent and flair in full. He broke the ceiling of the NDP, and opened a new chapter in Canadian history.
Jack’s success is not a matter of luck or accident. It took decades to reach that height. Although he came from a political family where father and grandfather served as cabinet ministers, it took Jack three attempts to get elected to the Parliament.
I truly believe that Canadians’ love of Jack does not come solely from his superb performance in this year’s election. Indeed, Jack was exceptional in the debate and the campaign trail. He could even turn his cane, which is usually a sign of weakness and vulnerability, into a magic wand that symbolized his strong will to fight.
I wonder how many people watched the most recent federal election debates. Although the NDP won the most seats in its history, I don’t think Canadians admired Jack out of the shallow impulse of siding with the successful.
Those who have been following the news closely would appreciate how Jack had smashed the Quebec separatist party. The NDP is the first federal party to have defeated the Bloc in such spectacular fashion. More importantly, Jack didn’t use the Liberal or Conservative strategy of bribing Quebec voters.
Jack is admired for his character, integrity, courage, and fighting spirit, as much as his ideology and philosophy.
At a time when voters generally do not trust politicians and view their acts as opportunistic and self-serving, the public's high regard for Jack reflected Canadians' longing for a political leader with integrity and a conscience.
Jack was optimistic, cheerful, caring and willing to listen to others. When he faced sickness and difficulty, we could see his strong will and fighting spirit. He acted according to his talk and he was trustworthy. He did not lose his ideals in a world that regularly prizes short-term gains. He tried his best to help the vulnerable. He selflessly devoted himself to this country. Jack touched the hearts of Canadians and was a role model for politicians. Jack was the conscience of our society. He was the hope of the people and the goodness that people wanted.
Layton brought the NDP to a new height but he achieved it not by himself alone; the changing political climate contributed to that achievement. Many of Jack’s viewpoints, when they were first raised, were attacked and scoffed at, but more and more people were beginning to understand Jack’s ideas. Let’s take the example of raising the corporate income tax rate so that government could have more revenue to support public services. When Jack first raised the prospect, he was ridiculed, but during the election this year, even his Liberal opponents agreed to it. Last week, one of the world’s wealthiest individuals, Warren Buffett, publicly urged the U.S. government not to coddle the super rich anymore. Arguably the most successful and renowned investor in the U.S. said he had not seen anyone who would shy away from sensible investments solely because of the tax rate. He cited job figures to indicate that lowering the tax rates for investments had in fact resulted in lower job creation.
We didn’t see Jack shift his stand, lie, or smear his rival in order to win in the election.
Jack’s last letter to Canadians is a wonderful gift. It truly reflects his character and spirit, as well as his ideals and wisdom. He set the timetable for his successor, and reminded people of the NDP’s proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions, and ensuring that no one is left behind. To Canadians who were fighting cancer, Jack encouraged them not to lose hope.
To young Canadians, Jack shared his belief in their power to change Canada and the world, and how their dreams, frustrations, and ideas for change had inspired him.
To all Canadians, Jack shared his belief that together we can build a prosperous economy and society that spreads its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors, offer a better future for our children, do our part to save the world’s environment, and build and keep a country of great equality, justice and opportunity.
Jack’s final sentences in the letter are the most quoted: “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.”
These well-written words not only reflect Jack’s philosophy but the wrong approaches in today’s politics.
When Obama won the 2008 presidential election, Canadians longed for a political leader with Obama’s qualities in Canada. Today, Canadians suddenly realized that we did have a political leader that surpasses Obama and it’s a great pity that he died young.
Jack, may you rest in peace. We will always remember your aspirations and will continue your work to build a better Canada and a better world. Just as we’re always grateful to Tommy Douglas, so too will we always cherish your memory!
Gabriel Yiu is a small businessperson and the former NDP candidate in Vancouver-Fraserview.