The Globe’s Gloria Galloway and Jane Taber talk to three former NDP leaders – Stephen Lewis, Ed Broadbent and Bob Rae – about Jack Layton’s political legacy.
Stephen Lewis: There was never any guile in Jack
In defining why the loss of Jack Layton has struck a chord with so many Canadians of all political stripes, Stephen Lewis says it is because they understand his “extraordinary decency and generosity and kindness and commitment to the issues.”
Mr. Layton’s legacy was to put a human face on social democracy in a way none before him had been able to, said Mr. Lewis, the former head of the Ontario New Democrats whose father, David Lewis, led the federal party in the early 1970s.
“There wasn’t a touch of malice in his soul,” Mr. Lewis told the Globe and Mail Monday after spending some time in the morning with Mr. Layton’s children and his widow, Olivia Chow.
“His legacy is, of course in part, the stunning breakthrough in Quebec which was vital, not only for the New Democratic Party but also for the sense that a federal party could command that kind of support in Quebec at this point in time,” he said. “But also the civility that he brought to politics, the integrity that he brought to politics and that’s very difficult to achieve, to approximate.”
Mr. Lewis, who has served as Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations and the UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, said he never ceased to be amazed at Mr. Layton’s interest in issues faced by the developing world.
“He talked to me with such genuineness and intensity about it. And, in my experience, it’s very, very hard to find politicians who look so far beyond themselves and yet with exactly the same intensity of feeling that they would apply to a Canadian issue or a local issue,” he said. “There was never any guile in Jack. It was just so lovely, that openness and decency.”
Whether it was a telephone call out of the blue, or a chat in an airport, or an e-mail exchange, or a conversation on a sidewalk outside an NDP convention, Mr. Lewis said Mr. Layton never seemed to have time for small talk. He only wanted to discuss issues and the things he hoped to achieve.
“Like everybody else, I loved the guy and was so drawn to him and this is the cruellest of fates. It’s just unbearable,” said Mr. Lewis.
Who knows what the future might have held for the new Democrats under Mr. Layton, Mr. Lewis asked: “Whatever the future brings, it will now be very much done in his name and with his spirit.”
Ed Broadbent: Jack was a force for Canadian unity
One of Jack Layton’s most important gifts to Canada was to strengthen the bonds of Canadian unity, says Ed Broadbent.
“It was a singularly magnificent aspect of his leadership that we had the breakthrough in Quebec that some of us had worked for years,” Mr. Broadbent told The Globe. “Jack brought it together. This was a great moment for Canada that is frequently forgotten.”
The astounding success on Mr. Layton’s New Democrats in Quebec left the separatist Bloc Québécois with just four seats in the House of Commons where it had been a significant force for nearly two decades.
“Thousands of Quebeckers made a federal choice in this election and they made it for the NDP,” said Mr. Broadbent. “This is very important for the unity of our country and it will be a big challenge for the caucus to sustain that support in the weeks ahead.”
But Mr. Layton also made gains in other parts of Canada including Toronto, said the former NDP leader.
“We have more seats in Toronto that the Liberals have,” he said. “He was growing on the people of Canada in each election and they were taking to him and this bubbled over in the recent campaign.”
Part of Mr. Layton’s strength was his sunny disposition – a critical attribute for a leader of a left-leaning party, said Mr. Broadbent. He was also a “doer” who treated his opponents with civility, he said.
“He didn’t convey the attitude that he had all the answers and that he was just interested in winning debates. He conveyed the sense of hope that the country is a remakeable country.”
A few weeks ago, Mr. Layton called Mr. Broadbent to invite him over for a glass of wine and a cigar – something they would share from time to time.
“He said: ‘Guess where we’re going to have it?,’” said Mr. Broadbent. “And I said ‘Don’t tell me, I know, it’s the official residence of the Leader of the Opposition.’ And he said, ‘It is indeed.’”
The date was set. But the day before they were to meet, Mr. Broadbent received a message from Mr. Layton saying he had to cancel. Mr. Broadbent learned 24 hours later that Mr. Layton’s cancer had returned.
“That was a positive happening that didn’t happen,” said Mr. Broadbent. “And I will remember that because we chuckled with each other on the phone and said neither one of us expected that to happen this election.”
Bob Rae: For Jack, it was never personal
Politically they weren’t close, but there was a professionalism and a decency about Jack Layton that Bob Rae admired.
For a time the two were in the same party as Mr. Rae, now Interim Liberal leader, recalled Monday when he first met Mr. Layton.
It was 1982 and Mr. Rae was running to be leader of the Ontario New Democrats.
“He didn’t support me,” laughed Mr. Rae. “We often joked about it.”
Mr. Rae went on to win – without Mr. Layton’s support – and eventually become Ontario NDP premier; Mr. Layton had a long career in municipal politics. In 2003, Mr. Layton became the NDP leader and Mr. Rae followed him five years later to Parliament Hill as the Liberal MP for Toronto Centre.
“I was always struck by his energy and his resiliency and the fact that he never ... for him, it was never personal,” said Mr. Rae. “He never dished it out personally and he didn’t take things personally.”
For all that, he came to admire Mr. Layton and his politics. And what will stay with him is the image of the NDP leader in the last few weeks of the most recent election campaign, “when the wind caught his sails.”
“Even though they weren’t coming in my direction, I felt a sense of admiration for him because of what he always though could be done,” said Mr. Rae.