NDP leader Jack Layton passed away at 4:45am today (August 22, 2011) in the company of his family and loved ones. He has been fighting with prostate cancer since 2009, and ended up having to take time off this summer when a new form of cancer developed. His goal was to get treatment and recover over the summer, so that he could return to Parliament in the fall. His passing is obviously extremely sad news, and a big blow to Canada.
Jack Layton was a fighter. Anyone who has had cancer or been close to someone with cancer, really knows what that means. I've had a few people close to me that have suffered from the dreadful disease, and sadly, I have a few people close to me that are suffering right now. Cancer has claimed countless lives. But there are also inspirational and heartfelt tales of those who have persevered and fought hard against cancer. Cancer patients are among some of the most courageous and toughest people out there. Jack Layton has been fighting cancer for several years now, but still been able to keep up a strong public image and be a powerful leader of the NDP. I don't actually like using the word 'fight' when it comes to cancer, just because such a word almost mandates that there is a winner and a loser. I don't consider that Layton lost this battle. Just like I don't believe most people who died from cancer really ended up losing their fight. Yes, cancer was the cause of death, but they didn't end up being losers. They demonstrated a toughness, perseverance, humility, and will that most could only dream of having. Layton didn't exhibit the traits of a loser, and he passed away a strong and inspirational man.
Layton's legacy as a fighter doesn't stop with his battle with cancer. He was a warrior when it came to politics, especially when concerning equality, human rights and the working class. He was a man who was passionate and in love with Canada, but he refused to be blind to the injustice and hypocrisy that tarnishes this great country. He fought for what he thought Canada should and could be, and even though he never became Prime Minster, he influenced and shaped this country in an unforgettable way.
Jack Layton was a fighter and a tough guy who called out bullshit and refused to be pushed around. But he was also an extremely compassionate and loving man. Anyone who follows Canadian politics, knows that Layton wouldn't back down from a challenge or have any trouble aggressively calling out those he didn't agree with. He also was a man who had a heart for the underprivileged and would openly show compassion to the hurting. He had deep convictions and beliefs, and most had to do with equality and ensuring a positive future for all Canadians. He fought hard for those convictions and railed against those opposed to them, but in the end, his legacy will be one of compassion and love. You may not have agreed with his policies or politics, but it's hard to be opposed to what fueled them -- his strong belief that everyone deserves happiness and well being in Canada.
I always liked Jack Layton, because he reminded me of the ideal uncle figure. He didn't look like most of the other pretentious and white businessman type politicians. He had the receding hairline and the bushy mustache, but most importantly, the ever present mammoth smile. He came off as warm and always willing to give you a big hug, but also willing to call shit when it is shit. He seemed like a guy who would be cool to go out for a beer and be more than willing to listen to your story. But then he would also give you the necessary advice and let you know what needs to be done.
Layton's famous saying was "don't let them tell you it can't be done." The words of an eternal optimist. He truly believed NDP would eventually be the party in power. He believed in the potential to change Canada for the better. Some like to claim that optimists are people who keep their heads in the clouds and try to ignore the chaos around them. This definition couldn't be farther from who Jack Layton was. The man was an optimist, but he was also a fighter. He believed in the good of people and the possibility for change, but he also realized that actions and policies needed to be pushed in order to make this happen.
Layton really did leave a huge impact and make some big changes. Under his leadership, the NDP federal party did the unimaginable and claimed 103 seat to become the official opposition party. Liberal vs. Conservatives has been the cemented federal battle since the beginning, and for years has made people believe that it really was only a two party system. NDP was able to rise ahead and achieve the amazing victory of getting the majority of seats in Quebec. I strongly believe a huge factor for the NDP's rise, was due to the strong leadership of Jack Layton. People believed in Layton, and they felt his passion and more importantly, his compassion.
The rise of the NDP is far from the only victory achieved by Jack Layton. He has brought many important issues to the forefront such as pension, healthcare, domestic violence, and First Nations right. Actually, Layton fought so hard over many First Nations' issues, that PM Stephen Harper gave credit to Layton for his role in 2008 for the federal government's apology for residential schools. Layton refused to ignore all the atrocities committed against First Nations, and he'll long be remembered for helping in finally righting one serious wrong (there is many more to go).
I'll remember Jack Layton as a man who fought for equality. He believed that Canada should be a place for everyone, no matter their sex, beliefs, race, or lifestyle. He was open minded and compassionate to the citizens of Canada, but he also held strong to what he felt was right. He was the face of a party that desperately needed a strong leader. It is sad he won't ever get to be Prime Minister, but his impact and legacy will be felt by all future leaders.
I never met or personally knew Jack Layton. I voted for him. I cheered for him. I liked him. But I never had a personal relationship with him. So, as much as this day hurts for me, I know it is even harder for his loved ones. I send my heartfelt condolences to Olivia Chow (his wife) and his children Sarah and Michal Layton. I send all my sympathies to all his friends and family. He will be missed by many, but I know you will miss him most.
To see the compassion and love that Jack Layton had, I encourage everyone to check the recently released final letter written by Jack Layton. I think it is a great final piece to remember a great man.