Skip to main content

On the steps of Parliament Hill in Ottawa a photograph of Jack Layton is surrounded with flowers, a bottle of Orange Crush and other messages to commemorate the first anniversary of Layton's death, on Wednesday, August 22, 2012.

FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS

When Jack Layton died on Aug. 22, 2011, parts of the country responded with an unexpected outpouring of grief and affection for the NDP leader.

One year later, it is a legacy felt on multiple levels.

For New Democrats, he is the leader who successfully moved them beyond just being a protest party. He gave diehards a taste of pragmatism that wasn't too harsh for palates long accustomed to ideological purity. In doing so, he also (perhaps in spite of himself) opened the door for the more politically conventional style of the leader who filled his shoes, Thomas Mulcair. One need not be an NDP supporter to be impressed by this accomplishment.

Story continues below advertisement

For other Canadians, that legacy is more mixed. In reflecting upon it, the negative must be considered alongside the positive.

The NDP's success in the 2011 election came, more than anything, because of its breakthrough in Quebec. The near wipeout of the Bloc Québécois was welcome. The manner in which the NDP achieved it, by itself playing to nationalist sentiments, was not. To try to make good on that pitch while governing would have destabilized federalism.

Mr. Layton's leadership also helped expose how inadequate an alternative to the governing Conservatives the federal Liberals had become. Hopefully, that will yet cause the Liberals to rediscover their way. If they have instead been permanently supplanted, and the NDP does not significantly moderate what remain highly impractical ideas about how to govern, Canada will at some point find itself with a government badly unqualified for economic management.

Had the NDP won government last year - something it did not expect to do heading into the campaign, and had not prepared for - the feel-good story would be tempered with some harsh realities.

That not being the case, it is easier to appreciate what is Mr. Layton's most unimpeachable legacy. With public cynicism running high, the chord that he struck with many Canadians in his final months and in his passing was a reminder that - with the right combination of decency, optimism, perserverence and grace - it is still possible for our politicians to inspire. Without painting over the more worrisome aspects of his record, that is well worth remembering.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

If your comment doesn't appear immediately it has been sent to a member of our moderation team for review

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.