By Henry McRandall
Canadians of all political stripes were stunned today to learn of the untimely death of Jack Layton, the federal leader of Canada’s leftist NDP (New Democratic Party).
Layton’s passing came less than four months after he had led his party to a historic breakthough both nationally and especially in the predominantly French-speaking province/nation of Quebec, where it rose from just one seat to winning 58 of Quebec’s 75 federal ridings.
Nationally, the party rose from 36 to 103 seats in the 308-seat House of Commons, becoming the Official Opposition for the first time ever in the five-party federal legislature.
Under the leadership of the anglophone federal leader who stole the hearts of many of Quebec’s sovereignists (separatists), the party was now poised to give Canadians their first-ever leftist federal government in the next election, about four years from now.
During the campaign, it was evident that Le Bon Jack was not at his best as he was hobbled by a cane after hip-replacement surgery and weakened by a lengthy battle with prostate cancer.
Altogether, very impressive for a man who had only eight years earlier won the leadership of a party whose presence in the House of Commons was just shy of the 12 seats needed for official recognition and funding as a party.
But it was my own experience with Le Bon Jack that impressed me the most.
I did not know Jack Layton well. In fact, I had only met him three times in my life – once at his city councillor’s office in Toronto in 1987, once during his campaign for the NDP leadership in 2003 and once again a couple of years later during his federal election campaign tour.
This first meeting was shortly after my illegal blacklisting as a journalist (because of my leftist political and social activism – so much for that myth about a “liberal bias” in the mainstream media) had become fully effective across North America.
It was late January or early February, 1987. I had exhausted all my resources and was living on the streets of downtown Toronto.
I had called Layton’s office a few days earlier to schedule a meeting to discuss some political matter (I no longer recall what that matter was). Toward the end of our conversation, Jack asked me for my address and phone number so that he could get back to me on the matter.
That was when I had to acknowledge that I was currently homeless. Jack, without saying a word, immediately whipped out his cheque book and wrote me a cheque for several hundred dollars of his own money.
That money was probably the difference between life and death for me during the next six bleak weeks of winter.
Like most Canadians – whether they supported the NDP or not – I will always remember Le Bon Jack as a man of great courage, wisdom, integrity and compassion.
You left us far too soon, Jack.
On the tragic death of ‘Le Bon Jack’
By Henry McRandall