Sunday, August 28, 2011

Much Ado About Jack

For the past week, Canadians have been inundated by media coverage of the death of Jack Layton.

For any non-Canadians reading this who may not have any idea who Jack Layton was, he was the leader of the Canadian NDP (New Democratic Party) and, as of last May, the leader of the official opposition party in Parliament. He passed away last Monday (August 22), having succumbed to cancer.

Being a leftist pinko in my heart of hearts, I was always somewhat sympathetic to Layton's party and, by extension, to Layton himself. Even so, I think that the media frenzy surrounding the man's death and the pubic display of grief has been just a little over the top.

A lot of it has had to do with a final letter that Layton wrote, literally on his death bed, addressing his party, his caucus and Canadians at large, in which he expressed his hopes for both his political party and Canada in general. You can read the text of the letter here.

This is not to say that I count myself among that small group of Jack's most critical detractors. There has been the odd columnist, mostly obviously right-leaning editorialists, such as Christie Blatchford, writing for conservative-minded publications such as The National Post, who have dared to speak ill of the deceased (or, more correctly, the politics of the deceased). Blatchford dismissed Layton's parting letter as being "vainglorious" and "full of sophistry" and alleged that the words were not those of Layton himself, but that it was written with the help of some of his closest advisors.

Like many others, I consider Blatchford's labeling of Layton's final words as "vainglorious" to be unduly harsh. The man was dying. It's understandable that he would want his final words to carry a certain amount of gravity. "So long, it's been fun" just wouldn't cut it, somehow. Cut the man some slack.

I don't know whether Blatchford has any facts to support the allegation that Layton had help from his closest advisors in writing his letter but, even if true, so what? Political leaders often - in fact, usually - rely on advisors and speech writers to help deliver their message in exactly the way that they want. The conservatives, including Stephen Harper, also do this. Why take Jack Layton to task for it?

One of Blatchford's colleagues, Jonathan Kay, has accused the Canadian media covering Layton's death and funeral of lacking objectivity. "The entire Canadian media has given a free pass to Jack Layton's widely published deathbed political manifesto," he wrote, "which promiscuously mingled laudable paeans to love and optimism with not so laudable snipes at the Harper government . . . " I've read Layton's final letter twice now, and I see not one single mention of either Stephen Harper or his conservative government. Perhaps Kay takes exception to Layton's appeal that Canada should share its prosperity more fairly, assume a greater responsibility for protecting the environment and restore our sagging international reputation. No-where in there does Layton accuse, even indirectly, either Stephen Harper or the conservative government of lacking on any of the aforementioned initiatives. If Kay perceives that Layton is pointing a judgemental finger at the conservative government, all I can say is "If the shoe fits..."

Another of Layton's minority detractors, open-line host Dave Rutherford, tweeted "Today I said Layton should be remembered for the coalition threat and his death bed diatribe against Cons." Rutherford conveniently forgets that it took three parties, not just one, to theaten a coalition, and that the reason why those three parties chose to unite as they did was because of Stephen Harper's ham-fisted attempt to put them at a financial disadvantage in future elections; a move which he wasted no time in repeating as soon as he had his majority.

Blatchford, Kay, Rutherford and all those who shake their heads at the seemingly over-the-top national reaction to Jack Layton's passing forget that other Canadian politicians have died without sparking such a loud national expression of sympathy and regret. We must ask ourselves, why this man? I would suggest, perhaps it's that both the Canadian public and the Canadian media perceive that he was different from your average politician. There was something special about him; something that set him apart from the rest. Maybe that "something" was that he genuinely cared. That's something that people can sense, even without knowing it to be a fact.

Far from being a "death bed diatribe against the cons", I found Layton's final words to be uplifting, positive and optimistic. I wish that more politicians would promote love, hope and fairness instead of the usual empty promises of fiscal security, lower taxes and material wealth.

That having been said, I must admit that, every time I witness someone publicly weeping crocodile tears over Layton's untimely passing I'd love to ask them for whom they voted in Canada's last Federal election. All those nouveau Jack Layton fans can't possibly have voted NDP. If even half of them had done so, Canada would now be in need of a new Prime Minister, rather than just a new opposition leader.

1 comment:

Tubes said...

Not to detract from the man, but I think some of this affection has to do with being cut down before his time. He hadn't had enough time to be a screw up or ridiculed. There is no Fat Jimi hendrix like Fat Elvis or was James Dean better actor than Karl Malden or Marilyn Monroe better than say Katherine Hepburn? They tend to romanticize what might have been.