Losing Jack Layton

Lana
Lana Payne
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Love. Expressed in the colourful and heartfelt chalk writings and drawings on sidewalks and city squares. And in the beautiful words of tribute from friends, journalists, regular citizens.

It was there in the tears of a nation and in the hearts of a people.

It was about love. The love Jack Layton had for his country, for the people of Canada. He, after all, genuinely respected people, liked them — not all politicians do. And people responded to that.

It was there, always, in his eyes, in his words, in his actions, in his activism.

And it was this that was at the heart of a nation’s grief last week. Love.

Because when someone touches you with their passion, their humanity, with their relentless pursuit of social justice, few can resist the pull.

And when they do it with such joy, few of us, with the exception of the truly jaded, can resist wanting to be part of that kind of hope and optimism.

Hope is, indeed, a powerful thing. Full of audacity, as Barack Obama has written.

But Jack Layton did not just hope.

He worked for what he hoped for. He worked extremely hard for the kind of world he believed in.

He did not just wish. He pursued. He climbed mountains.

He did not give up. He was, indeed, a fighter.

He was a voice for the powerless and less powerful. And his undeniable spirit and beloved last words for Canadians will be part of his enduring legacy.

I was once among an audience where we were asked: what are the conditions for love to grow in a world with so much heartache?

How do you bridge what seems to be the unbridgeable? Jack Layton thrived on those challenges. He built many bridges. He was a pragmatic idealist who understood that real change, deep and profound change, does not happen overnight, but through incredible hard work and relentless determination. His words — “never let them tell you it can’t be done” — describe just how driven he was in the pursuit of his vision of a more progressive Canada.

Inspired

I, like millions of Canadians, was inspired by Jack, by his leadership and by his devotion to building and making Canada a better country, where our incredible wealth is shared more fairly and where no one gets left behind. That does not mean we always agreed. Nor did he expect that kind of blind devotion.

During his last major speech in the House of Commons, on the Harper government’s bill to legislate back to work locked-out postal workers, Jack referred to this principle of making sure no one gets left behind as “a fundamental Canadian value.”

He applauded the postal workers and their union for defending the rights of new and young workers. “I admire,” he said, “the workers for rising up against this injustice, even though it is not necessarily their rights and benefits that are in jeopardy, but those of future employees. The workers have stood up to protect the next generation … that is also a tradition of the NDP. One we are proud of.”

It is perhaps fitting that this defender of a more progressive Canada, this leader who brought his political party to historic highs, would defend workers and their labour rights during his last speech in the House of Commons as Leader of the Official Opposition.

And as we head into Labour Day, the labour movement will, in our province, reflect on 75 years of unions working together, but perhaps we should also consider just how progressive change is really achieved and sustained.

Jack, in his final letter to Canadians, spoke of a movement being greater than any one person. He spoke to young people and how inspired he was by them. And he spoke of his Canada, a great country, as one of the hopes of the world.

But, he said, we can be a better one. We can be “a country of great equality, justice and opportunity. We can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together.”

I have, like many Canadians, lovely memories of Jack Layton. Each time I spoke with him, I was impressed by his graciousness, his respect and his joy.

There is joy in this struggle to build a better and fairer world. Jack Layton certainly had that in abundance: joy for the struggle.

In the days ahead, it will be left up to all who have been inspired by Jack’s leadership to carry on this legacy of hope: hope that a better world is indeed possible and to find joy in the struggle.

Because when you choose hope, anything is possible.

Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by email at lanapayne@nl.rogers.com.

Her column returns Sept. 10.

Organizations: House of Commons, NDP, Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Canada

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