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Mr. Layton

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I know, like we need more commentary on this. I’ll try to be brief.

I’ve been surprised by the strong response to Jack Layton’s death. I’ve been just as surprised how much I share in the feeling. Like going to track down what you think is an obscure song and finding it in the iTunes top 10.

So many Canadians were tweeting on the day of his death, RIP Jack Layton trended not only in Canada, but worldwide, leading to puzzled members of the global twitter-verse to respond with items like, “RIP Jack Layon. Whoever you are.”

That was kind of funny.

A lot of people have said they felt very sad about his death even though they’d never voted NDP. Me, I actually did vote for that party while he was leading it. Heck, I even attended a rally of his once. I’d like to say it was terribly inspiring, but the truth is, I left a little underwhelmed. I think that was his first campaign as NDP leader, and he still had some work to do in learning to inspire the troupes.

But he did get better at that, I thought, even as pragmatism had me voting Liberal the last couple elections. Since that party’s rather stunning performance in the last election, and the equally stunning reaction to his death, of course there has been a lot of attempts at analysis. Most notorious was Christie Blatchford’s, who accused Canadians of show and Layton of cynical manipulation. It’s not just that it was too soon (mere hours after he died); I think she was just wrong, on both counts.

John Doyle, Globe TV critic (of all things), was one of those who, I think. got it more right. Jack persisting through that campaign, which looked hopeless for the NDP at the outset, armed with that cane, yet refusing to give up. Shades (pale shades, but nevertheless) of another Canadian icon, Terry Fox. The man dies, but the movement…? That remains to be seen.

I know some people who just don’t get this whole thing. Who didn’t like him that much, who just don’t feel it, who are tired of hearing about it. Which I can appreciate, because even though I share in the feeling, this “week of Jack” has been a bit much.

But still, I just had to watch the funeral. Which was kind of amazing. Very inclusive (French / English / native, multi-denominational, gay / straight), funny, sad, moving. When Stephen Lewis describe Jack’s letter as “ultimately, a manifesto for social democracy” and got his first of several standing ovations, I thought, “the Conservatives are in trouble.” I’m bad at political prognostication, so I could be wrong about that. But who knows. Optimism is better than despair, right? I think someone said that.

And the opening of that eulogy also, I think, hit the nose on why so many have been so unexpectedly affected by this.

Never in our collective lifetime have we have seen such an outpouring, so much emotional intensity, from every corner of this country. Jack was so alive, so much fun, so engaged in daily life with so much gusto and so unpretentious, it was hard to focus, when he was alive, on how important that was to us, until he was gone…. Jack simply radiated an authenticity, an honesty, and a commitment to his ideals that, we now realize, we were thirsting for.

He tapped into a yearning that politics be conducted in a different way and in that difference, would emerge a better Canada.

Here’s to a better Canada. Thanks, Jack.

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