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Rick Roberts as Jack Layton and Sook-Yin Lee as Olivia Chow in the CBC biopic Jack. (Allen Fraser)
Rick Roberts as Jack Layton and Sook-Yin Lee as Olivia Chow in the CBC biopic Jack. (Allen Fraser)

Jack Layton biopic: We don’t need the CBC to mythologize our politicians Add to ...

The concept for a biopic on Jack Layton, the late NDP leader, was a dubious one from the start. Why add to the eulogies now? Why not let more time elapse, to see whether he could be cast as an enduringly significant historical figure, as was the least the case with another recent, flawed CBC biopic of another New Democrat, 2006’s Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story?

Why not allow the myth to take shape organically, instead of trying to shape it? In the case of Jack, it is heavy-handed on the part of the CBC. Canadians don’t need the public broadcaster to decide which of its recently deceased politicians merit a mythology.

It is good that the CBC is supporting Canadian dramatic productions and presenting Canadian stories. This is part of the corporation’s mandate, to tell Canadians about Canadians. The filmmakers should also be lauded for portraying the often overlooked good sides of politicians. They would find the same if they did a biopic of most Canadian federal and provincial politicans of any stripe. Generally speaking, they are motivated by good intentions, even if the policies don’t always match them. They care about their fellow citizens and want to do good things for the country.

So what was the CBC thinking? Jack is a varnished view of Mr. Layton – that is, beyond a few scenes that showed how Torontonians rose up against his welfare-state approach to homelessness and housing generally, when he was a municipal politician. He was resoundingly defeated when he ran for mayor, as the film briefly shows.

But NDP strategists loved the drama, and little wonder, the portion spent on Mr. Layton’s federal legacy is a hagiography, and given how recent many of the events it portrays are, it was an unpaid political advertisement.

For example, the biopic offered no hint of his deplorable play for sovereigntist votes by offering Quebec more seats than its population warrants in any redistribution. It was political cynicism at its worst, but Mr. Layton knew what he was doing; it was a tactic to win over voters from the Bloc Québécois, which he succeeded in doing, at least temporarily. The recent defection of one NDP MP to the Bloc suggests the party may regret the strategy in the fullness of time.

Jack Layton was a very good man in many respects, and an honourable politician, who is fondly remembered on all sides, including by this newspaper. But let’s not gloss over his flaws, including his risky economic policies. His bids for power were rejected by the majority of Canadians, and no amount of well-intentioned scriptwriting can alter that fact.

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