Jack Layton 1950-2011

The death of NDP federal Leader Jack Layton evoked an immense outpouring of sadness and solidarity across the Canadian state. The popularity of Layton, who led his party to unprecedented electoral success on May 2 despite his apparent illness, prompted Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper to declare an official state funeral to honour the NDP leader. Normally, such honours are bestowed only on deceased prime ministers and cabinet ministers.

Thousands of working people passed by Jack Layton’s coffin in Parliament in Ottawa, and again at Toronto City Hall. They lined the streets for the funeral procession to a packed Roy Thomson Hall on August 27. Thousands more stood outside the famous concert venue in a nearby square, before giant screens on which the eulogies and musical tributes were projected.

Layton‘s last written public testament is hailed as a social democratic ‘manifesto’. (It can be viewed at www.ndp.ca).  Although its content is suffused with general sentiments about love and hopefulness, its strongly partisan stand for the NDP does put it at odds with the views of some union and NDP officials who favour a merger with the Liberal Party. The leadership race to replace Layton is virtually underway. The NDP Socialist Caucus, which will host a conference on November 26 in Toronto to decide its position on the leadership and policy questions, issued the following statement on August 24:

“Jack Layton, Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, fought valiantly, but lost his second battle with cancer early on August 22 in Toronto. His passing, at age 61, is a cause of great sadness for all working people and the population at large, a tremendous blow to his family, to whom we send heartfelt condolences, and to the labour-based NDP to which Jack devoted his political life.

Layton‘s optimism, energy and passion defined his approach to issues of great social importance. He was a tireless advocate for more and better social housing, a combatant against violence that victimizes women, and against the scourge of AIDs. Layton promoted environmental protection, the rights of cities, and he heeded the call of the anti-war movement to demand ‘Canada out of Afghanistan now’.

“While his policies often didn’t go as far as we wished, Layton earned the respect of socialists by campaigning steadfastly to form an NDP government – which he came closer to accomplishing than any of his predecessors. His last major speech in Parliament, as Leader of the Opposition following the ‘orange surge’ on May 2, was a stirring defence of postal workers against the draconian back to work legislation imposed by the Harper Conservatives. Layton won Quebec, not only with his charm and charisma, but by affirming Quebec‘s right to decide its future, sans the strictures of the undemocratic Clarity Act.

“The best tribute we can pay to Jack is to win the struggles to which he was committed.”