Last week was a sad week for New Democrats and Canadians alike. Through the grief and the difficult questions though I would like thank everyone who took a moment to sign a book of condolence, attend one of the many memorial services, watch the funeral, or leave a kind remark on Facebook. If he were here I think Jack would agree that last week was one for somber reflection, but this week is one for moving forward.
The media, doing its job, is wondering aloud about the future of the New Democratic Party after our tremendous loss last week. Can the party hold onto its gains without Jack? Can we hold our support in Quebec while bringing the rest of Canada into the orange tent? Who will lead the party and try to fill Jack’s enormous shoes? These are all valid questions, but they won’t all be answered today, this week, or even this month. Let me start with what I do know; the New Democratic Party and Canada are stronger today than a few weeks ago.
Not dwelling on the cruelty of losing Jack at the peak of his political career, we must look not just at what was accomplished under his leadership, but why he was able to lead our party to such enormous success in the most recent election. Jack was a thoughtful, compassionate, determined, and optimistic person who saw the good in everyone. This made him a very credible and effective leader and public figure. People got to know Jack over the years and the more they saw of him the more they liked him. As their affection grew, Canadians also began to listen what he was saying what values and policies he was promoting as the leader of our party. Once his credibility as a messenger was established the message that he delivered – of positive, balanced, thoughtful, and responsible, and pragmatic leadership – created the Orange Wave for which he will be likely be most remembered most for.
Take Jack’s letter to Canadians as one final example. Here is an excerpt that I think sums up Jack as a Leader; “And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world.” This sums up what Jack always stood for, but this is also an excellent summary statement of what the New Democratic Party has always stood for. The key difference in the last election is that people identified and liked Jack and were open to his, and our, positive message like they never were before. They trusted him when he asked them to trust us.
I think it will be commonplace in a few years time, if not sooner, that comparisons will be made between Jack and Tommy Douglas. The similarities between the two are striking. Obviously both were successful New Democrats, but both also dedicated their lives to social justice, equality, opportunity, promoted and practiced fiscally responsible governance, democracy, and transparency. Each man also came to be truly appreciated by the majority of Canadians once they left, but both also left the New Democratic Party and the social democratic movement in Canada stronger in their absence.
In politics, and in life, the saying goes that we all ‘stand on the shoulders of giants.’ Without question this is true of the New Democratic Party today. We stand not just on the shoulders of Tommy Douglas, but now Jack Layton. Our values and ideas are stronger than ever, and supported by more Canadians than ever before with thousands of new, young, and determined volunteers inspired by the extraordinary words of our most successful leader. They, like millions of Canadians truly believe that; “Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair.” This has long been the belief of New Democrats, and because of Jack Layton it is now the belief of millions and millions of Canadians as well.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River
Pictures from the Memorial Service for Jack Layton in Thunder Bay: