By Frank Moher
As God’s cruel jokes go, this one’s a doozy. Jack Layton, having built the NDP into the Official Opposition and created a sense of hope for the resurgence of a genuine left in Canada, one that would keep the right from running roughshod over the poor, the middle-class, and those who see the country as more than a balance sheet, is dead at 61.
As a westerner, I had watched his emergence on the national scene with an ingrained distrust. He seemed to be yet another Ontario pol elected to reinforce the NDP’s base in that province, but who would make little headway elsewhere. It was the same old centralist story — or so it seemed. And then there was that moustache — that moustache! — that made him look like a used car salesman, or worse.
But gradually he grew on me (as he did, obviously, on many other Canadians). He had a surprisingly good grasp of the entire country — of the issues in BC’s struggling forestry industry, say, or of the way a flood on the Prairies could wipe out years of hard work. And apparently he got Quebec; in any event, they got him. Maybe he had just whipped his party sufficiently into shape that he was well-briefed before heading out on a trip, but that in itself suggested a new competence that allowed one to conceive of the NDP as, one day, a governing party.
By the time of the election, and his astonishing sprint to the finish, I found myself in an odd position for a died-in-the-wool Westy: of hoping this Ontario pol would be the one who eventually chased Calgary’s Stephen Harper out of office. And, in truth, I was looking forward to watching Layton manhandle the Conservatives in Parliament
And now he is gone.
Next month, in Edmonton, the nation’s rightists will get together for a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Reform Party. What they will be celebrating is the imposition on Alberta of a lot of old Orange Protestant ideas out of Ontario, as peddled from a kitbag by the likes of Ted Byfield and, yes, Stephen Harper. The conservatism of that province is no longer of the Bible Bill Aberhart brand, so similar to the populist politics of Saskatchewan’s Tommy Douglas as to be, at times, indistiguishable. It is now corporatist, and mean. That is the Reform Party’s achievement, which they have since spread, under the name of the Conservative Party, across the land.
They did so by cynically attaching themselves to the West’s regional aspirations — hence the title of their conference, “How the West Got in.” But they do not represent this westerner, nor most of the westerners I know. If we no longer have the stranger from the East with the funny moustache to dig us out from under them, well, maybe that’s just as well. No use once again importing a kitbag of policies; we are, after all, where the NDP began.
We might just have to do it ourselves. That could be Layton’s biggest bequest to us — a boot in the butt.
Thanks for that, Jack. And Rest in Peace.