Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Canadian Federal Politician Jack Layton Dies


New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton
Graphics (Toronto: 2011) Joachim Romeo D'Costa

Some of the last words of Jack Layton two days before his death
Photo (Toronto: July 2, 2011) © Jerome D'Costa

The New Democratic Party (NDP) Leader Jack Layton, who recently took leave of his position due to health reasons, died on August 22. He is being mourned all over Canada by his relatives, party members and other Canadians -- both foes and friends alike.

Ever cheerful and enthusiastic Jack Layton gained further renown during the past country-wide election. As always, he spoke for the common people, the poor and the disadvantaged. He enthused the youth so much so that many of them participated in the voting for the first time and quite a number of youth joined politics for the first time and got elected as NDP members of the Parliament. He boosted the image of the NDP as a party to be reckoned with.

The powerful as well as the common people expressed their appreciation of the efforts made by Mr. Layton. Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a condolence message said: “On behalf of all Canadians, I salute Jack’s contribution to public life, a contribution that will be sorely missed. I know one thing: Jack gave his fight against cancer everything he had. Indeed, Jack never backed down from any fight.”

Governor General David Johnston said: “Mr. Layton was held in great esteem by Canadians for his passionate dedication to the public good….His fundamental decency and his love of our country serve as examples to us all, and he will be greatly missed.”

Former Toronto Mayor David Miller said: “As a councilor [of Toronto Municipality], his leadership in fighting against homelessness and for our environment both resulted in permanent change for the better. He has left a national legacy.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Mr. Layton would be give a state funeral on August 27 at Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto. This honour is given to a few in Canada.

Jack Layton was born in Montreal, Quebec in 1950. In the mid 60s, he organizes a campaign in the city council to get a youth centre built, but he was unsuccessful. In early 70s, he helps Michael Goldrick to get elected in the city council. This is how he gets attracted to politics. In 1972, he joins Ryerson University as a political science professor and involves himself in local politics. In 1982, he got elected to the city council. Two years later, he obtains his PhD in from York University, Toronto. In 1990, he was the deputy mayor of Toronto. In 2000, Mr. Layton’s book Homelessness: The Making and Unmaking of a Crisis was published. In 2003, he wins federal NDP leadership. In 2004, he becomes the federal MP from the NDP. Two years later, in another election he and 29 other NDP members become federal MP. In 2010, he is diagnosed to have prostate cancer. On May 2, 2011, the NDP under his leadership wins a total of 103 seats in the federal Parliament and the party gains the official Opposition position. On July 25, 2011, he steps down temporarily from the leadership of the NDP due to a new form of cancer. Almost a month later, he dies.

The legacy of Jack Layton will live on, especially among the youth who were inspired by his dedication to the causes of the common persons and the unceasing enthusiasm he carried with him.

Two days before his death, Jack Layton showed his usual concern, love and hope for Canada and the Canadians by writing a long letter, which can be termed as his last testament. This letter was publicly revealed after his death. Among many things, he wrote: “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. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change….” Then he concludes his letter by saying: “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.”

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