Jack Layton, ten years later

  • National Newswatch

Jack Layton made quite an impression on people. Hundreds filled Toronto City Hall with chalked messages after we lost him. Thousands remember him every year.He also made quite an impression on our country.This tenth anniversary of the day we lost Jack Layton also happens to be bang in the middle of a federal election — and happy warrior that he was, elections were always some of the best fun he ever had.So this is an excellent moment to remember that “quite an impression” Jack Layton made not only on people, but on our parliament and on our public debates.There are those who argue — as our current Prime Minister does to justify this election — that there is something wrong with Parliaments that give governing roles to more than one party; that require Cabinet ministers to talk to MPs; and that occasionally amend or even defeat proposed laws that look like bad ideas to a majority of the people we elect.Jack Layton had an entirely different view of our democracy — rooted in his long years working with councillors from diverse political backgrounds on Toronto's city council.Layton believed that people working together to get things done was a positive virtue — that it made for better law and better policy.Jack Layton was a party leader. He understood politics and political power. He hoped to win the elections he ran in. He certainly would have accepted a majority mandate!But he approached the multi-Party Parliaments the people of Canada elected during much of his time in federal politics as opportunities to find common ground between parties and to move forward — just like the great “minority” Parliaments that brought in pensions and Medicare, sometimes by unanimous votes in the House.Layton also knew that if you give Conservatives or Liberals more in elections, they will do less in government.Canadians might want to think about that in this election.There are those who argue that the most important priority of government is to give the wealthy more money through tax cuts, while imposing austerity on everyone else.Some still argue for this — but many fewer do these days. Jack Layton had something to do with that, too.He loathed this reverse-robin-hood approach to public policy, which (among many other tragedies) condemned homeless people in his riding to freeze to death in the winter streets, enraging him.He argued that a generous socialism for the fortunate few and a cruel austerity for the many was not a law of nature. It was a choice, and a bad choice. And we could make better choices.Like asking rich people to contribute a little more to the society that has given them so much.Like working to ensure Canadians have good health care, affordable housing, good public transportation, child care for our children and dignified support for our seniors.Like a respectful reconciliation with the First Nations whose land we took and now share.Like action on climate change.Jack Layton's political opponents scoffed at him for wanting to focus federal politics on issues like these. Instead, they wanted to talk about more tax cuts; or about bashing immigrants; or about more absurd “tough on crime”  measures or other do-nothing symbolic issues designed to make people angry and to divide us.But these days, every party in the current federal election is instead at least talking about the priorities he cared about most.Jack Layton would have viewed that as progress. While criticizing the half-measures being proposed, and while arguing that we can act — act effectively — together instead. If we choose to. If we don't let the soldiers of inequality convince us otherwise.Hopeful, optimistic progress.That is a Layton legacy that Canadians can carry forward every year and in every election.