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Zimmerman: RIP Jack Layton – Reflections

September 1, 2011

It’s been about a little more than a week and a half now.  Almost immediately after he passed away his passing was the third most tweeted thing on twitter globally.  The news has set in now and the Canadian political scene reveals a shifted reality without Jack Layton at the helm of the New Democratic Party.  At this very time the future of the party looks uncertain, but I think nearly everybody political, both within the party and without, is expecting some big showdowns ahead.  We’re all watching as the chess pieces are getting geared up to move across the newly laid out board.  Some big things are coming ahead.

 This relatively new website is also going to plunge right into the action very soon and the discussions and the debates that follow should be exceptional.  Let’s hope that this site becomes a concise expose on the full spectrum of political discourse in the state of Canada in 2011 and beyond that.  The is moving forward.  Before we go forward, I want to take this space to share some things about the dearly departed whose untimely departure spells such an immense upcoming shift in our country’s political scene. 

I’ll always remember the first time I met Jack Layton back in 2004.  He had just been elected to the House of Commons (although Olivia had to stay behind at Toronto City Council for another two years) and was running his first term as Member of Parliament and leader of the federal NDP.  A friend of mine and I, just getting over our feelings of hopelessness at George W. Bush’s second election, were attending an event called Talking Toronto, or was it Listening to Toronto?  I don’t remember, but it was hosted by then mayor David Miller.  Miller has invited Jack Layton as  federal guest, which made sense as Layton was previously the president of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities, and David Miller was constantly trying to get the federal and provincial governments to support Toronto financially.  I hadn’t expected to see Jack Layton there and I was excited (about age 19-20 at this point) as I had read his book and liked him in the 2004 election debates.  I think his optimism and anti-war stances made me like him.  The Iraq War was what politicised me.

We chased him out into the hallway when he had stepped out and I remember being surprised at his approachability.  He had told us to give him a second to blackberry message the mayor to tell him to hang on.  The mayor had been texting him to return, but Jack Layton put him on hold to speak to us.  We ended up talking about the Greatest Canadian show, that is, the CBC’s mini-series where Canadians voted in who they felt were the greatest Canadians in Canada’s short history.  At this point it had been narrowed down to the top ten.  My friend voted for Trudeau and was explaining to Mr. Layton that he felt that Trudeau had kept the country together.  Layton then told us that he was supporting Tommy Douglas and that most New Democrats were at the time. “Don’t tell him I voted for Pearson,” I said to my friend. “It’s ok,” said Layton.  Yes I voted for Pearson.  This was a long, long time ago!   Jack Layton then described his own change from the Liberals during Trudeau’s implementation of the War Measures Act in response to the kidnapping by the FLQ.  Douglas was firmly against the implementation of the act and this was what Layton said first brought him over to the NDP.  Layton ended up bringing loads of people to the NDP in the long run. 

I had met him numerous other times; once when he came to York University to give a talk and meet with some of the political clubs and organizers at York, at various rallies (some local, some international in scope), another time when he and Olivia invited a number of candidates and organizers to their house for dinner, at party fundraisers and conventions, and many other occassions.  One time, I recall, my friends and I brought him over to some people who wanted to speak to him.  We were in a back patio of a restaurant in Halifax (convention in 2009) and some people game up to a closed gate at the far back of the patio space.  They wanted to meet Jack and he was happy to come right to the iron bars to talk to them and listen to their concerns.  Each time I met him he was a stand-up guy.  I think no one, no matter their political stripe, can deny his approachability, pleasant attitude, and respectful disposition.  He really was like no other politician.  He was always humble when I met him, ready to listen, and always thankful towards myself and others for our hard work and support.  Another time, only recently after I had first met him, I was at a local candidate in the Jane & Finch area’s fundraiser.  We were, and still are, a safe Liberal riding and our riding assocatiation was miniscule and embryonic.  During the candidate’s speech I noticed a pair of familiar faces at the door.  It was Jack and Olivia.  They had just gotten back from Ottawa and stopped by, just the two of them, unannounced.  He came all the way to our peripheral orange oasis in a sea of red in North York to show his support. 

There was one another event that I’ll never forget that was really touching.  October 30th, 2008, I had just come home from a big Halloween bash at York University still dressed in my Heath Ledger Joker make-up and greased up green hair.  I was dehydrated as hell from all the beers.  My cellphone rang and I sleepily said “Hello?” “Hi, is this Jesse?” came the voice. “Yes,” “This is Jack Layton here…no Jesse, this is not a recording, I am right here…”  A friend of mine and a candidate in Willowdale was over with him at their house to celebrate Olivia’s recent re-election in Trinity-Spadina.  He and two other of my friends/then co-party members were bigging me up to Jack and telling him about all the hard work I had done on the recent election.  He then asked for my number to call me to thank me personally.  Really…you CAN”T get more authentic than that.  No one can deny that Jack really was, at his core, a very, very nice guy.  That’s how we’ll all remember him.

We’re going forward now, the party, the country, all of us.  I’m not officially a New Democrat anymore, but as someone on the Left I still work closely with them and such.  Even when I disagreed with some things Jack said and did (not too many times), I never lost my respect for his tireless efforts to meet people, to listen to people, and to let them know that someone in Ottawa wanted to hear what they had to say.  He did get involved in politics, I believe, because he wanted to help implement real positive change.  I also cannot deny that I probably wouldn’t have become so involved in politics and current events had it not been for this man’s example.  Rest In Peace Jack.  I’m sure where-ever you are you are already working to make it a better place just as you did here. 

P.S. I would like to share this interview I had with Jack in 2009.  It was full of optimism and discussion on the key issues that affected us then and affect us now.  Let’s hope we can move forward with optimism and tackle the real problems of our collective future.

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