Tuesday, August 23, 2011

You Don't Know Jack

Most of us didn't know Jack Layton personally. But that never stopped us from feeling like we did. That's just the way he was, continually presenting himself in a straightforward and honest manner. He was the kind of leader who easily blended in with the "everyman" mostly because, despite his role as a politician and the opposition leader of Canada, he was down to earth and humble.

Photo by Donald Weber/Getty Images News (2004)

Touted as the national party leader most Canadians would want to have a beer with (you can certainly put my name on that list), no matter which role he played, there was always the sense that he was genuine. Whether fighting for the less fortunate of the community, seeking out equal rights, conducting a local town hall or rallying the NDP party to a record-breaking victory, his convictions and integrity consistently shone through.

I remember first paying attention to him with the 2000 release of his book Homelessness: The Making And Unmaking of a Crisis. (I know, strange, isn't it, that a book nerd's first exposure to a long time political advocate didn't occur until said politician released a book) What I remembered most was the approach he took in this book and in the discussions he made when it was released. He gathered analysis, research and merged them with personal anecdotes, offering an understanding combined with proactive solutions. I remember admiring his approach and that's when his name stuck in my head. Except, of course, I was thinking he would continue to write books to inspire change for the better - little did I suspect he would continue to rise in the political arena.

But the approach in this book seemed to be his approach in many of the things he strongly believed and stood for. Well before his national role he continually took a firm stand for the rights of minority groups that the rest of society would rather have continued to shun. He was one of the few leaders who forged the path for attitudes to change in a progressive and positive fashion - and well before it was fashionable for a leader to do so.

When he moved from his role as Toronto city councilor and into the role of NDP party leader, he took his fight for the common person to whole new levels.

I have long admired Jack Layton's leadership and what he has stood for. Like so many Canadians I never had the privilege to know him personally, but that never stopped me from feeling like I did.

I remember bumping into him and his wife Olivia at Toronto's The Word On The Street a few years back.The two were walking hand in hand and enjoying the simple yet magical splash of book culture that WOTS brings to the city each year. And when I saw them and we exchanged a brief nod and smile, I had to remind myself that this wasn't that couple my wife and I have known for years and before this we had never met - despite the fact that that's exactly how it felt when I saw them.

Jack Layton left a legacy of that feeling in many hearts. He conducted himself with integrity, purpose and a wonderfully down to earth charm. He was the type of leader who could inspire and energize.

And in his last letter to Canadians, written just days before he passed away, he left Canadians with truly inspiring thoughts and words.

"Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one - a country of greater equality, justice and opportunity . . . consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don't let them tell you it can't be done.

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."

Thank you, Mr. Layton. Thank you for showing us the importance of standing up for what you truly believe in. Thank you for your integrity, for putting the common person first, for rallying for community and family, and for reminding us of the importance of working together.

I only hope that we take heed and actually listen to this message.

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