Skip to main content

So apparently Justin Trudeau fancies himself the next Jack Layton. How adorable.

On Monday night he told a crowd of supporters "make no mistake, the NDP is no longer the hopeful, optimistic party of Jack Layton… it is the Liberal party tonight that proved hope is stronger than fear, that positive politics can and should win out over negative."

Oh Justin.

"Hope" and "optimism" aren't empty catch phrases trotted out after the Liberal Party is caught on video tearing down their opponent's campaign signs in an effort to hold on to a seat it has held for 91 of the last 100 years.

When Jack spoke of "hope" and "optimism," he was envisioning a leadership rooted in substance. He was sharing a vision to set the country on a new course, different from that of the Conservatives and the Liberals.

Jack was hopeful that policies could be embraced based on principle, not on what the latest poll told you to believe. He was optimistic we could achieve real democratic reform, beyond just replacing unaccountable and corrupt Conservative senators with more Liberal ones.

Optimism for the future meant building an inclusive progressive Canada that took care of its people at home and shared its values around the globe.

Jack never shied away from pointing out flaws in his opponent's ideas or highlighting the hypocrisy of their positions. He did so respectfully and forcefully. The Liberal Leader is confusing substantive debate with the old style of politicking his party is so used to. Jack knew how to take a punch, and when appropriate, throw a few.

It's true Jack had a sunny and optimistic outlook on both life and federal politics. It's also true that people from all walks of life liked and respected that about him.

But it's an insult to Canadians to suggest that that's all it took to convince them to vote for him.

They voted for Jack because he was a relentless fighter for the little guy who believed, to his core, of the inherent value of all Canadians, regardless of their background or family pedigree.

They voted for him because they appreciated his decades of advocacy and experience in governing, and knew he could handle the top job.

They voted for him because they knew they could trust him to fight for what he believed in, and to stand up to powerful interests.

They voted for him because he offered the chance to turn the page on the decades of bickering and stale debates in Quebec. Debates that Justin Trudeau seems all too willing to resurrect.

Jack believed strongly in a united Canada in which Quebeckers playing an active role in government. He convinced 1.3 million Quebeckers to join him in that vision. He united Quebeckers around this positive vision along with his Quebec lieutenant and close friend Thomas Mulcair.

Mr. Trudeau's swing-and-a-miss on by-election night is yet another example of how little he has learned on the job so far and embarrasses himself with a shallow attempt to co-opt a great leader's words and turn them into meaningless jargon.

If Justin Trudeau wants to run the next election on who will best carry on Mr. Layton's legacy, my guess is that New Democrats will more than welcome that. Is Thomas Mulcair a different person than Jack Layton? Unquestionably. Does he share Mr. Layton's passion for a fairer, more prosperous Canada where no one is left behind? Like no other federal leader does.

So while progressives set their sights on replacing Stephen Harper in 2015 with the strong, experienced leadership of Thomas Mulcair, a word of caution to Justin Trudeau:

I knew Jack Layton. Jack Layton was a friend of mine. And you sir, are no Jack Layton.

Brad Lavigne was the 2011 NDP campaign director, principal secretary, and director of communications to former NDP leader Jack Layton. He is the author of Building the Orange Wave: The Inside Story Behind the Historic Rise of Jack Layton and the NDP.

Interact with The Globe