Another Great Canadian Leaves Us

Only the good die young / the evil seem to live forever…  —Iron Maiden

The loss of Jack Layton is one that—to me personally and to this country—is incalculable. I would go so far as to say that it’s the worst loss we’ve endured in Canadian politics since Pierre Trudeau left Parliament Hill for good. Like Trudeau, Layton clearly believed in this country and that its greatness could be measured, not in tanks and fighter jets, but in the good it does for its own citizens and the citizens of the world.

Jack Layton passes into the ranks of truly Great Canadians but will he leave us in a political void?

If my entry into the discussion seems late, it’s because I like to avoid knee-jerk reactions, at least in my writing. I need a few days to sort things out in my head so as to give due respect and diligence to the subject at hand. And because the day it was announced, Jack’s death hit me so hard I walked around stunned all day, unable to pull myself together.

To me it seems ironic that he seemed so awash in hope during his final hours. The phrase kept going through my head, ‘This is the death of hope in Canada.’ Naturally I hope I’m wrong and that my natural penchant for pessimism will be forced to succumb to a bright new day for Canada. But watching King Harper progressing more deeply into the monomania that has marked so many of the world’s despots is deeply unsettling. As Alex Atamanenko, NDP MP for my riding of BC Southern Interior, said at a recent Slocan Valley event, “It’s hard to watch the dismantling of this country.”

Therein lies the difference between a politician who understands what it is to serve and one who merely lines up with his corporate buddies at the public trough. We forget that the etymological root of ‘politician’ or ‘politics’ is the Greek word polis, meaning ‘city’ but with the inferred meaning of ‘citizenship.’ None of which happens without people, and publicly-minded people. In my view, the vision of Athenian democracy has never worked since ‘politician’ became a vocation. This only invites what Bruce Cockburn—another great Canadian—describes in Call it Democracy as “bottom feeders posing as leaders.” If it were up to me, every political candidate would be required to take an ‘ethics test’ before entering politics, the same as drivers must take driver’s tests before taking to the road.

The current crop of self-serving Machiavellian neo-Republicans we have running this country from its corporate boardrooms pretends that its vicious brand of political cynicism is the way of the future. In their twisted minds, no one is truly motivated by good but merely by avaricious self-interest. It’s Adam Smith’s doctrine taken to a religious fundamentalist extreme.

The result is a country that spends more money on killing machines than on MRIs, more money on bailing out or subsidizing white-collar criminals than on supporting women and children and those with disabilities. Yet America, the flagship for this type of policy, has become a country with the highest rate of child poverty in the developed world, highest rate of incarceration in history, plummeting literacy rates, collapsing infrastructure, etc. Nothing like emulating a failed policy based on pure dogma and no results!

But then, if you’re part of the global elite, this policy is netting the results you want. After all, if you’re going to hoard 90 percent of a society’s wealth to yourself and your handful of soul-withered cronies, this is the way to do it, and damn the rest of the riffraff. The old expression is rather clichéd by now but apt nevertheless: these are people who would sell their mothers if it served their ends. Don’t believe me? Read almost any history of monarchy.

Jack may not have been a great gamesman, but he knew how to care for people – something usually lost on politicians.

By contrast, Jack Layton never seemed to sway from his ideals from his earliest days in Toronto civic politics to his final hours as leader of the official opposition. Although I was never privileged to meet the man, he apparently impressed people not by his political acumen but by his obvious care for people. One could argue that this doesn’t bode well for someone playing the dirty game that politics has always been. And it was often that he was politically outmaneuvered. It’s tough to succeed when you’re bringing a knife to a gunfight. The playing field is never level when one player has a conscience and the other has none. Yet the NDP’s huge increase in seats during the last election proves that Layton’s values are also the values of millions of Canadians. If there were any doubt, the massive outpourings of grief and remembrance across the country since his death have laid them to rest.

I think what an elite few in this country are afraid to admit is that what made Jack Layton so appealing to more Canadians than vote Conservative is that he was genuine. In a business of fakery and old boy’s clubs, he was real. He didn’t condescend and he didn’t lie. He may have fumbled a few passes but who doesn’t? He walked—or should I say cycled?—the talk. And he walked it with Olivia.

And best of all, he never turned into a dour old creep with no scruples and a giant bank account but a soul that’s tainted forever. Not to mention the trail of toxic waste and broken lives so many ‘leaders’ leave behind. Jack was our man, his day had come, and it was stolen from him. That qualifies as a Canadian tragedy, and Jack joined the ranks of legendary Canadians like Tommy Douglas, Terry Fox, Bill Mason, and Pierre Trudeau who had a better vision of this country than the sad alternative now being played out upon us against our will. Until we get some form of proportional representation in government, this situation is unlikely to improve. Please consider lending your vigorous support to Fair Vote Canada. (www.fairvote.ca)

Jack, may your vision of Canada come true and may you rest in that dream.

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About seanarthurjoyce

I am a poet, journalist and author with a strong commitment to the environment and social justice. If anything, I have too many interests and too little time in a day to pursue them all. Film, poetry, literature, music, mythology, and history probably top the list. My musical interests lie firmly in rock and blues with a smattering of folk and world music. I consider myself lucky to have lived during the great flowering of modern rock music during its Golden Age in the late 1960s/early '70s. In poetry my major inspirations are Dylan Thomas, Rilke, Neruda and the early 20th century British/American poets: Auden, Eliot, Cummings. My preferred cinema includes the great French auteurs, Kirosawa, Orson Welles, and Film Noir. My preferred social causes are too numerous to mention but include banning GMOs, eliminating poverty (ha-ha), and a sane approach to forest conservation and resource extraction. Wish me—wish us all—luck on that one!
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